Director: Brian Helgeland
Writers: Brian Helgeland, John Pearson (book)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis
Legend had a unique selling point and a top ticket cast to go with it - but has the filmed failed to live up to its name?
When Legend was announced I literally couldn’t wait to see it. I was expecting a meaner, grittier, modernised version of Peter Medak’s already mean and gritty The Krays (1990). Brian Helgeland's take on the Kray Twins was immediately billed as a more ambitious attempt at the story, casting hard-man heavyweight Tom Hardy as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Being a junkie for both British films and Hardy, I was looking forward to the birth of a modern British great.
Sadly, Legend has failed to live up to its grand and perhaps fate-tempting name, submitting an unfocused jumble of story-lines which fail to grip or engage the viewer. The second half of the film is considerably better than the first, making more of an attempt to grasp on to a basic narrative, but the whole film struggles to assemble any kind of plot line; the scenes which form the first half seem completely random and unrelated, and could be placed in almost any order. Story-lines appear to build but then fizzle out, not really going anywhere, and never truly being resolved. Characters seem to disappear and reappear out of nowhere, and then are never heard of again, most notably Eccleston’s ‘Nipper Read’, whose role could have been used to a far better effect. Ronnie and Reggie are the only two substantial characters in any scene, and so it is difficult to fully appreciate the impact that they had on those around them, the exception perhaps being Browning’s Frances Shea. I came away from Legend having learnt - or even experienced - very little. I don’t really understand why any of the characters behaved they way they did, and I’m not really sure what was supposed to be happening.
Aside from the messy, all-over-the-place plot, Helgeland’s biggest crime is his use of violence throughout the film. Violence is what made the Kray twins infamous; it followed them wherever they went and enabled them to build their criminal organisation and hold London in a state of submission. Violence was used by the Krays instrumentally and purposefully. None of the violence used in Legend, however, is purposeful at all and rarely has any contextual relevance. None of the violence is used to move the plot along, or to demonstrate how brutal and intimidating the Krays were. All in all, the violent scenes come across a bit slapstick.
Legend does possess some good elements. Hardy does indeed do some fantastic work as both of the lead characters, creating two individual and idiosyncratic personalities, while maintaining a brotherly chemistry between the two. Combined with almost seamless cinematography which allows these two characters to interact flawlessly with each other on screen, Hardy’s performance truly does hold this film together. If anything, watch the film for that. In fact all the performances are terrific, notably Thewlis, Browning and Eccleston when he manages to get some screen time. The issue is that they are strangled by a script that wants to be introspective and erudite but ultimately has no depth or message to it (“What do you do…when then only person who could ever get to you is gone? A cup of tea? I don’t think so.”). The key characters often come frustratingly close to delving into genuine emotional context, but never quite manage to get there, leaving the audience bewildered as to any of the characters’ motives.
With Legend I wanted to dive headfirst into the murky criminal dealings of Ronnie and Reggie, to learn about the motives behind their violent lives and the extent of the bond between them. What I got was a number of superficial snippets of criminal activities, that didn’t explore anything about two profoundly interesting individuals. Admittedly, my opinion is certainly biased due to how much I enjoy the 1990 picture and I wonder if Legend is a victim of its own hype. If this had been a film about two fictional London gangsters, would I have enjoyed it more? Perhaps. But in any case, this film is neither a brilliant British gangster flick, nor an engaging biopic.
In one line: Give it a go, it’s just about watchable for the performances, but don’t expect too much from the story.