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.