I was recently given the chance to watch Legend at the Gulbenkian cinema in Canterbury. The film is directed by Brian Helgeland, who wrote such films as L.A. Confidential and Mystic River. Although this isn’t Helgeland’s directing debut, he does a considerable job directing it. The script, however, leaves much to be desired.
First things first: do not be deceived by the trailers and posters for this film. Legend isn’t about the Kray twins (both played by Tom Hardy). Legend is a story about the Kray twins and Frances Shea (Emily Browning), Reggie Kray’s wife. It is as much of a romantic drama as it is a gangster film.
Is Legend a good film?
No, it isn’t. It’s a beautifully-shot film, but terribly flawed. There isn’t a single coherent storyline that runs through the film. Instead, it feels like twenty different storylines just happened to bump into each other in the middle of town and decided to get a coffee or something. If you asked me what Legend’s plot is, I wouldn’t be able to give you a definitive answer. THAT’S how messy it is.
Besides all that, I question the decision to have Frances Shea narrating the film from start to finish. Having non-stop exposition being shoved down your throat doesn’t exactly provide a comfortable cinematic experience and showcases the major weakness of a bad script – telling the audience the story rather than showing it to us.
The film score is halfway decent. Meaning that, on its own, the score is wonderfully refreshing and a pleasure to listen to. Paired with the film, however, it feels as cohesive as a bowl of vegetable oil and tap water.
That being said, the film does have redeeming qualities in its excellent cast. Most notably, of course, is Tom Hardy. Hardy delivers a powerhouse performance in this film as he juggles the difficult balance of playing twins who are similar yet disparate from one another. The makeup and visual effects help to distinguish the two brothers, but it is Hardy’s mannerisms, voice tones and physical transformation that keeps up the illusion.
Ronnie Kray is the gangster who suffers from his own deranged mind. Over the course of the film, he transforms from a violent brute capable of stone-faced killing into a much gentler gentleman with whom the audience acknowledges and bonds with but never relates to.
Reggie Kray is the much more relatable personality of the two. Starting out as a suave, charming and irresistible James Bond character, Reggie is torn apart by his loyalty to his family and the needs of his wife and eventually descends into a mad rage. The yin yang metaphor of the twins and Hardy’s portrayal of both is what carries most of the film.
Most of the film.
The rest of it is squarely shouldered by Browning’s petite but tough character. She is the person that the audience bonds with the most and it is through her eyes that we view the film. Browning’s excellent acting more than keeps up with Hardy’s and deserves more than it receives. Browning is what keeps the audience invested in the film. Too bad the marketing underplayed her role in the film, and it would be a pity if she isn’t rewarded for it in one way or another.
In all regards, with such a dynamic portfolio of acting under his belt, there is very little doubt that Hardy is a legend in his own right. But it’s a shame that this film doesn’t live up to its own name.