A GANGSTER “DOUBLE TROUBLE”
Gangster (or Mob) films have become commonplace in Hollywood as well as in the history of movie making. Whether the usage of familiar staples of gangsters, kingpins, mobsters, henchmen, money, police, and crime waves, the allure and overall fascination has been depicted in many variations, some stereotypical in nature, while others try to reinvent themselves in the “mobster” genre. Films like Goodfellas, Scarface, The Godfather (all three movies), and Pulp Fiction have become classic “fan-favorites” of the genre as newer films join its ever-growing body, including The Departed, Black Mass, and Public Enemy. Now director Brian Helgeland and actor Tom Hardy bring the newest gangster film to life in the cinematic retelling of the “The Kray Twins” in the movie Legend. Does this film have the “guts” to stand toe-to-toe with its mobster genre “betters” or is it a movie that should swim with the “fishes”.
Set to rule London’s nightlife of the 1960s, Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) keeps his “criminal” interest beneath his swagger bravado and charming charisma, while his twin brother, Ronnie Kray (Tom Hardy), is a mental disturbed “loose cannon” individual, who’s clinical diagnose with paranoid schizophrenic. Sensing and desiring a romantic connection, Reggie is quite taken with the young Frances Shea (Emily Browning), welcoming her into his comforting lifestyle of money and glamour, but of also painful isolation and shocking horrors. Bridging his life with his new bride, Reggie builds his empire with casino and nightclub acquisitions, leaving Ronnie to take care of the enforcement gangster issues. With Detective Leonard “Nipper” Read (Christopher Eccleston), a member of Scotland Yard, hot their heels, the Krays’s reign over London’s ensues, while ties to the American mafia help build their reputation. As the years pass, the conflicts between the two brothers increase, with Frances caught in the middle of their “family bonds”.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As my opening paragraph states, gangster / mob films have been around for quite a while. Most riff on the idea of classic mobster movies, while others will try to depict famous crime bosses and kingpins (albeit in a fictional dramatized to a degree) in a sort of “rise and fall” feature film. Like many, classic ones like Goodfellas and The Godfather trilogy are my favorite gangster / mob movies (I know….it sounds like I’m on the bandwagon, but there classic for a reason). As for the movie Legend, I remember seeing the trailer for it in theaters (roughly around end of summer) and, loving gangster movies as well as actor Tom Hardy, was interested in seeing it. However, Legend was overseas and was only brought to the United States in limited screens. Thus, I couldn’t see it in theaters and had to wait for it to come home release. I purchased on Blu-Ray when I went to pick up Creed (love that movie), but with seeing a lot of movies in theaters currently, I didn’t get the chance to watch Legend until now. After viewing it, I felt that while Hardy does a good job at playing duo roles, Legend is a shallow gangster that movie that only scratches the surface of what could’ve been cinematically recounted about the Kray brothers.
Legend is directed by Brian Helgeland, who previously worked on feature films as a writer including Mystic River, L.A. Confidential, and Man on Fire as well as directed The Order and 42. Like any mobster crime movie, Legend is punctuated violent acts of brawls and skirmishes and Helgeland knows how handle those scenes well, with visceral of bloody fisticuffs playing throughout. If you’re a fan of that, then Legend will be towards your liking. Interestingly, Helgeland also adds a pinch of humor to the proceedings, playing up Ronnie’s craziness with dash of comedic presences. Additionally, Legend also captures London during the 1960’s, offering viewers a visual look of the city from the drab row homes of London’s famous East End to the glitz and the glamour of bars, clubs, and Casino that surrounds the Kray’s thriving empire. Coinciding with that and aesthetically speaking, the look and feel of the movie (cars, clothing attire, furniture, song selection, etc.) also feels appropriate and authenticity for that time period.
The main problem with Legend is that it glosses over its entire story of the Krays. Helgeland wants to cram a lot into his 131-minute movie, but only shows glimpses at various parts of the two brother’s organized crime wave. Because of this notion, the movie is more interested (and invested) in its narration rather than its characters, who are, more or less, flat or undeveloped to make a lasting impression. In addition, the movie has a lot of exposition (and I do mean a lot) and narrated by Browning’s character Frances. This won’t be so bad if it was in moderation, but most of the movie comprises of Frances explaining this and that and who’s who that it sort of dilutes that the whole fascination of the movie. Again, this goes back to the whole thing with movie “exposition” as it supposed to help a movie…not cripple it. In short, Legend could’ve been really good, but with show much to tell and so much exposition the film such becomes flat, tedious, and little bit unsatisfying.
Of course, the highlight of the movie (and much of the draw to see it) is how actor Tom Hardy does as the two Kray brothers (Reggie and Ronnie). Hardy, who mostly known for playing the tough roguish characters like in Warrior, Lawless, and most recently in Mad Max: Fury Road, seems to relish the chance to play two completely different personas in this movie. As Reggie, Hardy gives a performance that’s cool and collective and excludes the confident swagger of crime kingpin. At the other end of the spectrum, Hardy’s Ronnie is more of an opposite, with a slurred speech, contorted facial expressions, and a crazy twitch of maniac presences. (Ronnie also provides a comedy in the movie). While Hardy gives both performance a well-done job, the character personas of the two are nothing more than outer caricatures shells (i.e. the suave one and crazy one). This, of course, doesn’t fall on Hardy’s acting ability, but rather on Helgeland and his writers for delving further into the Kray twins.
For the love interest in the Legend, actress Emily Browning fills that role as Reggie’s beau Frances. Browning, who’s known for her roles in Sucker Punch, Pompeii, and A Series of Unfortunate Events (wow…. I can’t believe that’s Violet Baudelaire)), hold her own and does good job as Frances, but, like Hardy’s Reggie and Ronnie Kray, feels somewhat shallow as her character is sort of glossed over, popping in and out of situations and leaving a lot of question about her life unanswered. As I mentioned above, Browning’s Frances does do the film’s exposition, so her voice gets more screen time than she does on-screen. Then there’s Christopher Eccleston, who’s a good actor (loved him as Ninth Doctor on Doctor Who), as the driven Scotland Yard Detective Leonard “Nipper” Read who’s doesn’t really do much in the movie, only bookends the story with a few brief appearances in-between. Just another clichéd flat-foot cop out to get the gangsters.
The rest of the cast is (collectively) a good group talented individuals, including David Thewlis as the Kray’s business manager Leslie Payne, Taron Egerton as Ronnie’s close confidante gangster Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith, Chazz Palminteri as an associate to a Philadelphia crime family and business partner to the Krays Angelo Bruno, and Paul Bettany as one of the leader’s to the Kray’s rival gang Charlie Richardson. All give solid performances, but again, are giving little room to make their characters memorable, resulting in most of them being a flat or a footnote of a particular scene / scenario.
Reggie and Ronnie Kray rule the crime ringing 1960s London in the movie Legend. Helgeland latest entry in the mob / gangster genre has its moments of clarity, creating a believable backdrop of 60s London as well as a unique dramatized narrative about the infamous Kray twins. While Hardy is fantastic in his polar opposite roles and his supporting cast is overall good, the movie can’t live up to its feature title namesake, feeling shallow in storytelling as well as its characterization of its cast of characters. To me, the movie was okay, but could’ve been better. Thus, I would recommend this movie has a rental only (nothing to rave about except Hardy’s performance). If you’re looking for a deep theatrical gangster movie, get your kicks elsewhere as Legend scratches the surface of what Reggie and Ronnie Kray and their crime empire.
3.2 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: September 9th, 2015
Reviewed On: April 7th, 2015
Legend is rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual and drug material