Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Premise: Based on a true story. Identical twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray (Tom Hardy) rise to the top of London’s organized crime scene but Ronnie’s unstable behavior threatens their empire.
What Works: Legend echoes many of the great gangster films like Goodfellas, The Godfather, and Little Caesar. This isn’t at the same level as those pictures but the filmmakers of Legend clearly have a love and understanding of the genre and they manage to fulfill many of the things that people enjoy about gangster movies while adding some new components. The gangster film is historically about two things: capitalism and masculinity. Quite a few gangster pictures are going-into-business stories or they are about the family business passing from one generation to the next. Legend reflects that in the true story of twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray who created a criminal empire throughout the East End of London. More than most gangster pictures, Legend emphasizes that the Krays were running a business and the ups and downs of their ventures are rooted in the relationship between the brothers. Gangster films are also about masculinity; a lot of American organized crime movies take place on the east coast and emphasize a macho culture of toxic masculinity. In that respect, one of the most interesting aspects of Legend is its portrayal of the Kray brothers. As depicted in the film, Reggie Kray was a ruthless but rational businessman who was primarily interested in building a business, making money, and embracing a vision of stability and success that wasn’t too far departed from a mainstream capitalist ideal. His brother Ronnie, on the other hand, was a violent and impulsive psychopath who was bored by the ins-and-outs of business and craved the chaos of the life of an outlaw. Legend presents these two men fighting for their business and eventually fighting each other in a way that visualizes the self-destructive impulses within masculinity. The movie is headlined by Tom Hardy in dual roles as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray and Legend features some of the most impressive work of Hardy’s career. He has the difficult task of creating two men who have literally sprung from the same womb and yet are distinctly different characters. Hardy does that in a way that’s not cartoonish and offers an empathetic portrait of two radically different men.
What Doesn’t: Legend never quite lives up to its title. The Kray brothers were legendary figures in the annals of organized crime and periodically we’re told that their name has become recognizable throughout London. However, the movie does not fully create the impression that these men have achieved legendary status or that they have become folk antiheroes in the way gangsters do. That’s due to the film’s limited scope; it’s primarily about the triangular relationship between Reggie and Ronnie and and Reggie’s wife Frances and how their relationship impacts their business venture and vice versa. Legend runs out of narrative momentum in its last third. The movie runs a little long and lacks focus. A common flaw of biographical filmmaking is that these stories become a series of disconnected historical anecdotes. Legend is better than that but the story isn’t pushing its characters toward a defining moment and so Legend fizzles out in its conclusion. The movie also features a voice over narration provided by Emily Browning in her role as Reggie’s wife Frances. The narration doesn’t add very much to the movie and the film doesn’t need it. The narration becomes problematic for the story since Frances is often marginal to the action. The story doesn’t unfold from her point of view so it’s illogical that she would provide the narration.
DVD extras: Featurette, commentary track.
Bottom Line: Legend is a unique take on the gangster film and it features an impressive performance by Tom Hardy. The movie is flawed but there’s enough in it of quality to merit a recommendation.
Episode: #593 (May 8, 2016)