Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis
Genre: Drama/ Biopic
During the 1960s identical twins Ronald and Reginald Kray (both played by Hardy) led lives as brutal and notorious gangsters that ruled the East End of London, but their loyalty to one another also led to their downfall.
That may seem like an extremely generic synopsis, but trust me, it is very much in keeping with the overall approach of Legend. The story of the infamous Kray twins is well known and there have been countless documentaries and fictionalisations of this story, so why make another one? A good question, and other than showing off Tom Hardy’s acting talents in a dual role and how modern technology can make having two Tom Hardy’s on screen look seamless, Legend fails to actually answer this question.
There is no denying that aesthetically writer/ director Brian Helgeland’s film looks the part; it captures the time period perfectly, is very well put together (especially the always reliably excellent Dick Pope’s stunning cinematography) and is superbly acted, but beneath the admittedly very impressive surface has nothing beneath that. Legend is by no means in my opinion a bad film, but simply a competent film. Though it certainly feels like 130 minutes, it is without a doubt watchable and entertaining in equal measure, but in the end it just competently tells a (part of a) true story, but then it comes back to my original question of why not just watch a documentary.
Simply telling the story competently is not enough to make a film anything above average; it needs to have some kind of angle, and there is plenty of interesting and emotive themes Legend could have taken as its angle, but it doesn’t even attempt to. The problem lies predominantly in the script; it is extremely flat and generic, with Emily Browning’s voice-over offering lazy gap-filling exposition and constantly talking about how much her character hated being part of the Kray’s life. I of course wasn’t around in 1960’s east end London so don’t know exactly what kind of dialogue was spoken on a daily basis, but often the spoken dialogue between characters feels like below-par Guy Ritchie style dialogue.
Ultimately it seems that Helgeland seems to complacently think the audience will be wowed enough by the fact we have two Tom Hardy’s on-screen, the array of talented well-known British actors and the very well put together visuals to notice that in fact Legend actually offers no substance whatsoever, pretty much making it the American Hustle of British gangster films.
Hardy himself is superb in both roles, bringing physicality and charisma in abundance to both Ron and Reggie, but crucially both characters have their own individually unique characteristics and even if one of them didn’t wear glasses, it would always be obvious which Kray twin we are watching. In fact his dual performance is very much the saviour of Legend as it certainly elevates the lacklustre script and brings far more entertainment and engagement than Helgeland’s lazy writing deserves. Likewise the rest of the cast of British actors including David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Paul Anderson and Colin Morgan all do superb jobs, even though Paul Bettany’s over the top performance (in two scenes) does feel like it is straight out of a Guy Ritchie film.
Meanwhile as good a job as Emily Browning does, her character is extremely two dimensional and feels like she is simply there as a narrative convenience. The fact that this is actually a true story and her character feels like that is testament to the real lack of effort in Helgeland’s script, as her character could have provided true emotional depth and involvement if the script were better, especially as she is the storyteller. For its 130 minutes Legend just rushes through the story, but its script most certainly does not feel in tune with the title of the film in any way whatsoever.
Though an acting tour-de-force in a dual role from Tom Hardy makes it a better and far more entertaining film than it deserves to be, Legend is ultimately a very competently made film, but the fact it offers next to nothing in the way of substance makes it forgettable and a serious waste of potential and talent.