Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 16, 2020)
Twice the Tom Hardy, twice the fun? With 2015’s Legend, we get a chance to test that hypothesis.
Set in London circa the 1960s, Reggie Kray (Hardy) used to box, but now he works in a minor capacity as part of the local criminal scene. Due to mental issues, his twin brother Ronnie (Hardy) winds up in an institution, but Reggie uses various threats to obtain Ronnie’s release.
Thus begins their ascent in the criminal ranks, as they use Reggie’s brains and Ronnie’s brawn to achieve their goals. They don’t follow a smooth path, though, largely due to Ronnie’s instability.
Though largely unknown in the US, the Krays remain infamous in the UK, and Legend doesn’t act as their first cinematic exploration. In particular, a 1990 film called The Krays received a reasonable amount of attention.
That one cast brothers Martin and Gary Kemp. This seemed like a semi-odd choice since both were best-known as musicians via 80s band Spandau Ballet, and both also weren’t twins.
I suppose they could’ve gone the same route as Legend and used one actor for both roles back then. Hey, if it worked for Patty Duke in the 1960s, it could’ve happened in 1990!
In any case, this choice can seem a little gimmicky, and that tends to feel true for Legend. However, given Hardy’s ample talent, I won’t complain.
And Hardy easily becomes the best aspect of Legend. He manages to give each Kray his own personality and he offers an acting tour de force that enlivens the film on a consistent basis.
Which is good, because the movie desperately needs the shot of energy Hardy brings. In particular, Legend becomes a slog due to its use of Reggie’s lover Frances Shea (Emily Browning) as the audience’s link to the material.
We get an awful lot of the tale from Frances’s perspective, and this turns into a major weakness. She creates a dull take on matters, kind of like if The Godfather came from Kay’s POV.
We spend too much time places we don’t want to be, and these impede the story’s ability to involve us. The choice of Frances as audience surrogate means we often spend too much time away from the Krays, and that damages the narrative.
Honestly, I occasionally wondered if the choice to emphasize Frances so much existed mainly as a purse strings concern. Legend came with a relatively low budget, and I suspect the visual effects required to pair Hardy with himself ate up a fair amount of that money.
As such, shots with Frances as the focus meant fewer with two Hardys. Perhaps money had nothing to do with this emphasis, but I suspect it did.
Even if we ignore the flaws related to Frances, Legend feels mediocre because it never manages to convey why the Krays became such a sensation. Really, much of the movie comes across as generic gangster material, so not a lot of it stands out as different or memorable.
We get a semi-incoherent narrative that often feels more episodic than anything else. In addition, the characters themselves never became especially compelling, as even the Krays feel undeveloped and less than engaging.
Tom Hardy offers enough talent to keep the viewer with the film, so Legend doesn’t flop. It does fail to live up to its potential, though, and it becomes a mediocre gangster tale.