In new film Legend (not to be confused with the same-named Tom Cruise fantasy debacle from 1985) Tom Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, twin gangsters who ran London in the 1960s. While they dream big, Ronnie’s mental instability constantly threatens to upend it all, and it falls to Reggie who must tirelessly keep his body-double in check.
A lot of the film’s marketing has focused on this duel performance gimmick, as if it’s something fresh and exciting. Tom Hardy AND Tom Hardy reads the posters. Wow.
However, lest we forget, Adam Sandler, a man with zero acting credit, has recently pulled this trick off in Jack and Jill, not to mention the fact that equally despised Eddie Murphy played eight characters in The Nutty Professor II: Meet the Klumps.
Luckily, Hardy’s performance – and thus the film – doesn’t join the same list, although doesn’t quite reach the heights of twin classics like Dead Ringers and Adaptation. In fact, it’s like a ‘Best Of’ Tom Hardy performances, with Reggie acting like a grown up Freddie from The Take, and Ronnie like a mix between Bane and Bronson.
But the performances are enjoyable, with Ronnie eliciting warped laughs and Reggie oozing charm (though both neither sounding nor looking like their real-life counterparts), and they shine through what is otherwise a lacklustre film.
Brian Helgeland writes and directs, his writing priors including the excellent Mystic River and Oscar-winning L.A Confidental. It’s surprising, then, that Legend is so poorly structured in comparison, with elements either leading nowhere or feeling tacked on. When Christopher Eccleston shows up on screen, as copper Nipper Read, you’d be forgiven for expecting him to fill a Melvin Purvis like role, chasing down the bad guys no matter what the cost. But he doesn’t. He fades in and out and really doesn’t seem to do all that much. Same goes for Paul Bettany’s rival gangster, Charlie, who is in the film for all but five minutes before leaving for greyer pastures.
It’s as if Legend was initially a 2 hours 40 film, but was cut down to a more reasonable 2 hours 10, in hope the run time wouldn’t scare off paying punters.
Which is a pity, because that means the whole film is held together by an annoying voice-over, courtesy of Frances (Emily Browning), Reggie’s girlfriend.
But you’re not here for a dramatic tale; you’re here for a guns-and-geezers flick, with excessive violence and uses of the word ‘cunt’, where men use every weapon available and girls look pretty (or are absent entirely). In those terms, the Ronnie and Reggie dynamic elevate Legend above the rest, with the clashing brothers adding somewhat of a Greek tragedy nature to proceedings.
Not Helgeland’s best work, nor Hardy’s, but an entertaining piece made better by managed expectations. L.A. Confidental, nowhere near; a solid but light British gangster movie, definitely.
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