Movie Review: Legend

Tom Hardy as the Krays: Ron (l) and Reggie (r) in "Legend"

Tom Hardy as the Krays: Ron (l) and Reggie (r) in “Legend” © 2015 Universal Studios

Since Tom Hardy is playing a double role, is Legend twice as good?

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

It’s not as rare an occurrence as you’d think. Oscar winners/nominees Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, Marion Cotillard and Edward Norton have done it. Freddie Highmore, Bette Midler, Eddie Murphy and Lily Tomlin have done it. Bette Davis, Lindsay Lohan and Jean-Claude Van Damme have done it — twice. Countless others have done it. Even in the painful film Jack and Jill, Adam Sandler did it … though, if given a choice, most viewers would prefer watching a vulture eat its young.

Which brings us to the latest actor working a split shift: Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises, Lawless, Inception) doubling down in Legend. He plays gangster twins Ron and Reggie Kray, the kingpins of the swinging ’60s of London. As written and directed by Brian Helgeland (42, Mystic River, L.A. Confidential), this biopic looks at these notorious East Enders who became such household names that even American crime boss Meyer Lansky knew who they were.

Legend is preceded by the successful 1990 UK film, The Krays. It starred brothers Gary and Martin Kemp — best known as guitarists in the English New Wave ’70s group Spandau Ballet — and actress Billie Whitelaw as the boys’ doting mama, Violet Kray. Whitelaw’s Violet calls to mind the iconic Ma Jarrett in the classic gangster drama White Heat, in which James Cagney’s erratic crime boss is indulged to a fare-thee-well by his devoted mother. Yet here, the loving mother (Jane Wood) has all but one scene, appearing in front of the boys and their gang in a sloppy bathrobe that reveals her ratty slip underneath. Why the filmmakers chose to ignore this fascinating creature, particularly given the fact that Legend cries out for more complexity, is confounding.

Further, the movie sidesteps any examination of how these onetime Cockney delinquents climbed to the top of the crime heap. Or how they maintained their perch. When Ron pockets £50,000 from the profits of the Krays’ nightclub, the twins are all but ruined. As the underworld princes of London, how does the dissolution of one club nearly destroy them? Subsequently, when the Krays suddenly take ownership of a new club, no explanation is proffered.

London Foggier yet: While we’re repeatedly told about the Krays’ propensity for violence, the film’s most harrowing display of brutality comes by way of a scene with the rival South Enders, as they torture some unfortunate who’s hanging from chains. Sure, the Krays intermittently pull out guns, smash bottles, even wield the occasional knife, but come on … in Tony Soprano’s organization, they wouldn’t even make the rank of “capo.”

Tom Hardy as the Krays: (l) Ron and (r) Reggie in "Legend" © 2015 Universal Studios

Tom Hardy as the Krays: (l) Ron and (r) Reggie in “Legend” © 2015 Universal Studios

Thankfully, there’s Tom Hardy, two-timing himself:

He’s Reggie, oozing Rat-Pack glamor and flash. Sporting slicked back hair (accented with a Bobby Derin-type wave) and peacocking in Italian-cut suits, his breezy demeanor looks to be adopted from the matinee idols of the day. As the older brother (by a mere ten minutes), Hardy’s Reggie is the credible brains of the operation, But above all, he is Ron’s sworn protector. “My loyalty to my brother is how I measure myself.”

He’s also Ron, the bug-eyed bizarro in glasses. Where Reg would do a soft-shoe, Ron would stomp. His body appears thicker than Reggie’s, with a stance that’s akin to that of a provoked bull about to charge. Ron’s voice is lower and harder than his brother’s, his underslung jaw adding to the menace. If he has to make eye contact, he peers from his half-rimmed glasses with angry determination, assuming that anyone he’s speaking to – other than his brother – is an enemy.

Hardy’s depiction of Ron’s paranoid schizophrenia is spot on. As is his marvelous, unapologetic declaration of his homosexuality, stating plainly to an American Mafioso: “I prefer boys. Italians, sometimes Greek, but I am not prejudiced.”

Of course, make-up helps. As Ron, Hardy wears a wig, prosthetic teeth, and has a padded jaw. His nose has been widened, his face powdered and his lip line is drawn bigger and less symmetrical than his pretty-boy brother’s. Yet even with cosmetics and costumes, Hardy is so convincing that it’s often difficult to remember that this twosome is only a single.

Emily Browning as Frances, Tom Hardy as Reggie in "Legend" © 2015 Universal Studios

Emily Browning as Frances, Tom Hardy as Reggie in “Legend” © 2015 Universal Studios

Unfortunately, other characters pale. Other than the early flirtations, Reggie’s girlfriend/eventual wife Frances (Emily Browning) is written with little life. Scenes between the couple are overwrought and repetitive. If the filmmakers had imbued her onscreen persona with as much personality as her narrative voiceover, the character might have been far more appealing. As for the other members of the Krays’ gang, they are one step removed from extras, playing the “yes men” who pony up approving nods, manufactured guffaws and occasional muscle.

Production designer Tom Conroy delivers fine period details, specifically in the look of the swanky nightclubs. The exteriors, consisting of narrow back alleys and the dingy neighborhoods of East London, give the shots veracity and texture.

However, even with the virtuosic performance of Mr. Hardy, Legend is worlds away from the hyperbole that the title implies.

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Rating on a scale of 5 dead ringers: 3

Release date: November 20, 2015 (ltd); December 11, 2015 (wide)
Written and Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri, Tara Fitzgerald
Running Time: 131 minutes
Rating: R

Here’s the trailer:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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