Movie Review: “Legend”

Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Chazz Palminteri, David Thewlis
Brian Helgeland

After penning the adaptation of “L.A. Confidental,” one of the finest films of the 1990s, and directing the exceedingly cool, nasty little throwback “Payback,” writer/director Brian Helgeland marks his return to the crime genre with “Legend.” Though he spent some time in director jail following 2003’s “The Order,” Helgeland made a comeback with “42,” the Jackie Robinson story. Taking advantage of the clout that biopic afforded him, Helgeland has once again made a stylish and occasionally tough, albeit bloated, crime film.

“Legend” follows real-life gangsters Ronald and Reggie Kray (both played by Tom Hardy) during their reign in the 1960s. The identical twins couldn’t be more different. Ronald is a mad dog who wants to rule all of London, and he’s arguably a paranoid schizophrenic too, while Reggie’s aspirations are more modest. The calm and cool gangster simply wants to run a few clubs, stay out of trouble, and live a violence-free life with his girlfriend, Frances (Emily Browning). The two brothers clash repeatedly, both emotionally and physically, but at the end of the day, they’re brothers, and no matter how far Ronald goes, Reggie stands by his side.

“Legend” is a somewhat unconventional crime movie; it’s familiar, but structurally dedicated more to character than plot. Helgeland’s script doesn’t build towards some big heist or turf war, but rather an internal blowup and personal loss, and the film takes its time getting there. Ultimately, “Legend” has a simplistic moral about a complicated relationship, so the 131-minute running time is excessive. Reggie’s dilemma – having to stick by his brother – is illustrated again and again. At times, there’s more repetition than narrative momentum.

On an emotional level, Reggie’s conflict resonates. Anyone with a brother, whether they’re a gangster or not, will recognize the relationship in the film. There’s a fantastic scene involving the two violently throwing punches at each other, like children, and then they share a cry and hug afterwards, quickly making up. They accept each other, flaws and all. As violent and flashy as “Legend” is, it’s not without moments of genuine humanity, because Helgeland and Hardy express empathy for these two gangsters. The story is also told from Frances’ point of view, so we’re seeing these men through her eyes, which only makes sense to paint a more empathetic portrait.

Helgeland and cinematographer Dick Pope turn East London into pure, tasty eye candy. They make East London wildly appealing with their smooth camera moves and distinct color pallet, relying heavily on blacks and reds. The camera often roams through alleys and rooms to imply just how much the Krays dominate this world. When the gangsters walk into a party, people take notice. The vibrant aesthetic doesn’t sugarcoat the violence, either. The punches and kicks are sometimes played for laughs, but towards the end, Helgeland brings the violence, tone and style back down to reality as the Krays’ lives begin to crumble.

The real draw of “Legend” is Tom Hardy in the dual roles. The actor is absolutely fantastic as Ronald and Reggie. He’s funny, frightening, sensitive and conflicted as the two brothers, both completely three-dimensional characters that Hardy beautifully brings to life. “Legend” has structural and pacing issues, but the actor makes up for more than a few problems. This will undoubtedly be a performance that Hardy will be remembered for, and the same can be said for Carter Burwell and his melancholic score.


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