Starring: Tom Hardy (Inception), Emily Browning (Sucker Punch), David Thewlis (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The dark World), Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects), Paul Bettany (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Writer/Director: Brian Helgeland (Payback)
Runtime: 2 hours 11 minutes
Release Date: 9 September (UK), 2 October (US)
The Kray Twins’ story may have already been adapted to film in 1990’s The Krays starring Gary and Martin Kemp as the gangster brothers, but theirs is a story worthy of a modern telling. If nothing else, it’s a chance for Tom Hardy to take on another challenge all great actors crave for: to play two characters simultaneously. And whilst Legend is certainly a great addition to the showreel for Hardy, as a film it’s a little uneven.
Focused on the Krays’ lives during Reginald Kray’s (Hardy) relationship with Frances Shea (Browning, who also acts as narrator), the film covers the essentials of their rise and fall as well as their troubled relationship. When focused on this key bond, Legend shines as an engaging character piece about brotherhood and unconditional love. This is helped greatly by the biting dialogue and strong tension, allowing for scenes that can quickly go from funny to violent and back again without at all feeling jarring. There are plenty of scenes on their own that are really strong pieces of work, especially any scene that resorts to the brutal, but unfortunately as a whole the film doesn’t quite add up. It feels structurally imbalanced, with a first half that feels too fast and brushes over plot developments through narration and a second half that drags to an anti-climactic finish. For a film that crosses the two-hour mark, the film is just too dense and could have used a little reorganisation of priorities and maybe a trim as well.
Tom Hardy is one of the best actors working today not to have an Oscar nomination, and his performances in Legend are certainly at least worth considering for the honour. Hardy does a great job of making both Ronald and Reginald distinctive characters with different speech patterns and facial expressions, making them easy to tell apart even without Ronald’s glasses. He plays off himself so well that it’s easy to forget it’s all an illusion, especially when the twins engage in fisticuffs with each other. A cast of strong supporting players surrounds Hardy and Hardy, though it’s a shame so many of them are underutilised. Christopher Eccleston’s Scotland Yard investigator feels like an important character who keeps being treated like a side note, whilst Chazz Palminteri and Paul Bettany are great in their roles but only get two or three short scenes each. Taron Egerton is also great as one of Ronald’s boy toys, but he’s mostly relegated to comic relief asides. However the real down note is Frances as played by Emily Browning, an actress I have never particularly rated. Her character is already too much of a cipher on paper until the third act, but Browning’s monotone voice and inanimate doll-eyed face don’t help matters at all; the fact she’s also narrating the entire story in that same monotone voice isn’t a plus either.
For all its problems, you cannot fault Legend’s technical package. The film looks authentically 60s British thanks to strong production design and costumes. Dick Pope’s cinematography is excellent, making especially good use of long takes in a manner similar to Goodfellas. Carter Burwell’s score is period perfect, playing like a mix of classic gangster and James Bond, and the soundtrack choices are also well selected.
Legend reminded me a lot of American Hustle: lots of strong elements together in one movie, but it never all quite sticks together. It’s certainly worth a watch of Hardy’s performances alone, but those expecting something on par with the gangster films of Martin Scorsese or Guy Ritchie will probably be disappointed.
FINAL VERDICT: 7/10