Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) is a compassionate gangster with a police tail at every turn. He is both feared and beloved by his neighbourhood in east London. Ronnie Kray (also played by Hardy) is his mentally unstable twin brother. He has been certified insane but is back out on the streets helping Reggie build a criminal empire. Together, they will rise to power as two of the most notorious gangsters in British history.
While this may sound like a typical gangster rags to riches story, Writer/Director Brian Helgeland seems unsure of the right tone for the Picture. At times it is the gritty crime drama you expect, and at others it is a questionably light-hearted romance padded out by slapstick humour. It is a weird tonal balance, and the Film suffers from even stranger tonal shifts through its 131-minute running time. Helgeland never seems keen on any one tone, frequently allowing Legend to become everything and nothing all at once. This method works in certain instances, but completely fails in others. This is easily his most sprawling tale as a director, but the tones and ideas may have been better suited to a mini-series instead of mashed together as a Film.
The Supporting Cast do what they can under the expansive, exposition heavy canvas Helgeland creates. Chaz Palminteri, David Thewlis, Taron Egerton (who broke out earlier this year in Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Christopher Eccleston are all great – but are never truly developed. They fulfill the obligations to the plot, but their subplots and motivations are delicately thin. Emily Browning fairs a bit better acting both as the Film’s narrator and as Reggie’s emotionally fragile wife Frances. Helgeland uses her mainly as the narrator, telling crucial portions of the story through her eyes. It is an interesting, albeit inconsistent touch, but one that Browning plays wonderfully.
These issues are all forgiveable however because of the absolutely fascinating dual performance by Hardy as Reggie and Ronnie. They are two halves of the same coin, but are ultimately two completely different people. And not surprisingly, Hardy brilliantly manages to make both men feel entirely unique from one another. Their mannerisms are different, the way they carry themselves is different, the way they talk is different; everything about them is different. Watching them interact with each other on-screen is simply marvelous (even during an especially brutal fight scene between the two characters) and is a complete masterclass in acting all in itself. Playing just one of these men would have been challenging enough, but by playing both, Hardy continues to prove what a reliable and spectacular talent he has quickly become.
Legend is tonally and structurally inconsistent, but it packs an unforgettably brilliant dual turn by Tom Hardy. His multifaceted turn as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray is riveting and worth the price of admission alone. It is just a shame that the movie around them is nowhere near as strong.
Elevation Pictures release LEGEND in select theatres on Friday, December 4, 2015.