Legend movie full length review - Won't exactly go down as a legendary film . . .
For a movie centering on the Kray brothers, Brian Helgeland's Legend is a menial and virtually bloodless snore. If the know that story of the brothers then you know that this is a colossal miscalculation.
A story about The Kray brothers without excessive violence is like a Superman movie in which he doesn't fly. If you know something about the brothers then you'll come away merely disappointed; if you don't then you'll come away bored and indifference.
The Kray brothers, Ronald and Reginald were gangsters who ruled the London crime scene from the late 50s until their imprisonment in 1968. They were legends in their own time; brothers whose penchant for bloody violence was so much in the public consciousness that they would become a parody sketch on "Monty Python's Flying Circus" called The Piranha Brothers. Later they were the subject of a much better movie by director Peter Medak called The Krays which embraces the boy's ultra violence in a way that this movie never does.
Ronald and Reggie would change the face of gangland crime. Before the Krays, a gangster might shoot you dead or at the very least beat you up, but the Krays elevated gang violence to a level that could only be described as 'savage'. Yet, they didn't live the lives of thugs. They might destroy their rivals in a bar with swords and brass knuckles but later they would turn up at a posh nightclub looking immaculately dressed, like members of The Rat Pack. They became a problem for the police and an industry for the tabloids.
None of the exploits that made the boys famous are anywhere near the new movie Legend. The movie never really gives us a reason why the boys became so famous. Their world is said to have been plagued by violence and bloodshed but it's absent from the movie.
The story is told in narration, for no real reason, by Frances Shea (Emily Browning) who would become Reggie's wife. The twin brothers (both played by Tom Hardy) are interesting and couldn't be more different in terms of their personalities. Reggie is a cool-headed, dapper fellow who takes care of his business with words or, failing that, with a knife. Ronnie is the more Neanderthal of the two, slumped over and grumble voiced he lives in a filthy trailer in the middle of nowhere and is surprisingly open about his homosexuality.
The best part of the movie are the two performances by Tom Hardy. In any movie where an actor plays twins you always ask yourself if you believe that they are two separate individuals, and in this Hardy succeeds. The two performances are so different and blend so well that we forget we're watching the same actor. Yet, much like Jeremy Irons in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, we admire the twin performances despite the fact that we can't stand the movie.
The storytelling here is messy, to say the least. There are ideas started but never finished, plots that get going but then stop. A subplot involving the boy's offer to go into business with some American gangsters goes nowhere. We're told things about the boys that should play more interesting than they do, like the Kray's rivalry with The Robinson Brothers. That story exists around the edges of the movie but it never takes focus. Like a lot of this story it is brought up but then abandoned.
Even the violence seems muted. There is a moment when the boys enter a pub and find it populated by a group of rival gangsters. We see that Reggie is sporting brass knuckles and Ronnie is packing a pair of hammers. Yeah, there's violence, but the scene never builds to anything. There's a fight, but there's no real punch to the scene.
It is clear that Helgeland's intention was to build Legend with the kind of posh 60s energy of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, but that film was energetic and, despite the bloodshed, kind of fun. This movie never gets going and we feel that we're watching a lot of people sitting in chairs smoking and talking. When you know about how violent The Krays were, it makes you sad to watch a movie that never seems to understand why they became so infamous. Ultra violence was the Krays port of call, but this movie just seems to drift around.