James Cole Clay // Film Critic
The slick, true crime flick LEGEND is like a jumbo-sized bag of candy: it’s impossible not to gobble up and enjoy. However, once you get to the bottom of the barrel you feel a little guilty giving yourself up to such a temptation.
This is a brisk stroll through London’s crime syndicate with a dual Tom Hardy performance that’s worth the steep price of admission. While the film’s deep flaws are easy to pick out, the unintended thematic elements make LEGEND (somewhat) irresistible.
Taking place in mid 1960s, London crime lords Ronald and Reggie Kray (Hardy) are twin brothers leading the cockneys of the East End to riches with gambling, clubs and who knows what else. Director Brian Helgeland (42) isn’t interested in the logistics of the business; he wants to know what is going on emotionally with these deeply disturbed pair of momma’s boys. Ronald (glasses Hardy) is a certifiably insane loose cannon with a penchant for flying off the handle, but somehow you still kind of love the big lug. He feels emasculated by his brother Reggie (non-glasses Hardy), who is dashing, has good posture and possesses the ability to make small talk. Ronald is openly gay and has makes no qualms about voicing his sexuality out in public. And Reggie is beginning to court Frances (Emily Browning), the sister to one of his cronies. These two blokes are bound by the blood they have spilled together and the blood that’s pumping through their veins.
The gangster has been a staple of masculinity in popular culture, and Helgeland (who also served as the screenwriter) plays with that idea in a manner so clever that it appears to be by accident. Ronald’s sexuality is never used as a crutch for him in the underworld; in fact, its an empowering aspect for his plight as a crime lord. He’s an alien to his mates and enemies, an anomaly that they just can’t quite figure out, but he’s fearlessly transparent which commands respect. Hardy, of course, disappears into the two roles, more so as Ronald because the white-bread Reggie frankly isn’t that interesting outside of his relationship with Frances and his brother.
Browning serves as narrator, giving the film a refreshing take as the Kray brothers are portrayed through the eyes of a woman. Browning is illuminating on-screen and her chemistry with Hardy is fair to midland, but when she’s on her own she does a magnificent job.
Helgeland doesn’t skimp on the comedic beats, which occupies a sizable amount of the film’s run-time. He’s able to make mental illness funny once again, because even though Ronald is a fully developed character he’s still a cartoon.
Carter Burwell’s jazzy score pulsates throughout the scenery from late nights at the clubs, to the noir feel of a closing shot late night on the boardwalk canal.
Many loose ends aren’t tied up, but LEGEND succeeds to be a rip-roarious helping of junk food.
LEGEND opens today.