Legend

Legend

2015, R, 131 min. Directed by Brian Helgeland. Starring Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Sam Spruell, Christopher Eccleston, Tara Fitzgerald.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 27, 2015

Probably – and one suspects rightfully – the word “legend” will be used five or six decades from now, when Tom Hardy dodders onstage to accept his lifetime achievement award for a screen career portraying criminals and psychopaths. He’s been drawn to both of those types again and again (Bronson, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max: Fury Road) and plays both here, pulling double duty as London’s infamous Kray twins, Reggie and Ronald. Two Tom Hardys for the price of one certainly sounds like a steal of a deal. But if this movie makes it into his future highlight reel, it’ll be for level of difficulty, not because the film itself has made much of a bid for posterity.

Hardy differentiates the two characters with his body and voice work, plus a helpful pair of Sixties-era browline spectacles. Reggie, the brains of the operation, has an easy gait and a confidential lean-in when he’s courting Frances (Browning), a delicate neighborhood girl who catches his eye. Hair-trigger Ronnie – he’s the one in glasses; also: certifiably insane – moves with a thug’s lumber but sounds like he’s caught a permanent case of the sniffles. Together, these three make a combustible love triangle: the gangster turned accidental romantic, the girl who makes him promise he’ll go straight, and the unhinged gorilla he has pledged to protect since they shared a womb.

As the Krays expand their empire, Frances supplies a running commentary via voiceover, spoon-feeding expository details (which turns out to be a boon; between the heavy East End accents and Hardy’s signature growly mumble, the lack of enunciation renders whole chunks of dialogue unknowable), as well as filling in any blanks that writer/director Brian Helgeland (who won the Oscar for his script for L.A. Confidential) chooses not to dramatize. For much of the film, it’s a niggling question – why precisely is Helgeland favoring her perspective? Eventually, we get an answer. It packs a punch, but it lends the film more gravitas then it’s probably earned.

The look is spot-on – these cat-eyelined ladies with their bouffants, hunched gangsters in smoky barrooms – yet Carter Burwell’s uncharacteristically plodding score is oddly out of time. For the film itself, the measuring of time – how it unfolds onscreen, and what takes place offscreen – is a problem. When Helgeland holds his concentration, he delivers a nifty, unbroken slink through a nightclub that spotlights every side of Reggie’s warring personalities – the cool-headed club owner, the curling-fisted crime boss, and the sweet guy falling stupid in love. But that scene – smooth as butter, the film’s best – is the exception. Mostly Legend just lurches.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Legend, Brian Helgeland, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Sam Spruell, Christopher Eccleston, Tara Fitzgerald

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