By John Corrado
★★ (out of 4)
Back in the 1960s, the Kray Brothers owned the crime-riddled streets of London, and these notorious gangster twins are given the glossy and often overlong biopic treatment in Legend. The only real twist here is that they are both portrayed by Tom Hardy, in an admittedly impressive dual role.
Reggie Kray is a slick negotiator who knows his way around the family business, and is trying to pursue a relationship with common girl Frances (Emily Browning), who also serves as our narrator. Ronnie Ray is pretty much the exact opposite, a raging sociopath with brutally violent tendencies, who has just gotten out of a mental institution, and happens to “prefer boys.”
These two wildly different personas allow Tom Hardy to explore his impressive range, seamlessly switching modes between the tough but polished Reggie, and doing something much more over the top as the almost caricatured Ronnie. It’s a compelling acting exercise that is a lot of fun to watch, even as the actor chews up the screen around him. Emily Browning is also solid, working with some nicely worded voiceover, and breathing a little more depth into what is otherwise an underwritten role.
Director Brian Helgeland reveals some stylish moments overall, including a few pleasing tracking shots and an appealing soundtrack of classic tunes. But the film itself is somewhat less compelling, with a loose plot structure that unfolds in a series of often sporadic moments over the sprawling 132 minute running time, never quite nailing its tone between dark comedy and glossed over crime saga. This is a film that works more in fits and starts, never quite coming together as an entirely cohesive whole, save for some enjoyable sequences along the way when it starts to come alive.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Legend is that it ultimately can’t live up to the great Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola films that it’s so clearly trying to emulate, feeling more like a derivative copy than the real deal. But this is still an alright gangster epic as far as things go, that offers enough small pleasures and entertaining moments to make it mildly worth seeing. And chief among these pleasures is the gripping double whammy of a performance from Tom Hardy, who admirably gives this otherwise uneven film his all, transcending the mediocre biopic formula around him.