Through the gaze and haze of 1960s London, Legend tells of the men, the myths, but not quite “legend”ary Kray Brothers, Reggie and Ronnie. They are a twin brother gangster crew, on an uphill mission to rule their city, one club at a time, one fight at a time. They would be a near perfect pair, if it weren’t for the exploits of Ronnie and the existential dilemma of Reggie.
When contrasted with recent gangster picture Black Mass, Legend shows similarities in the performance driven focus of its story. Johnny Depp and Tom Hardy are the clear showcases. Also like Mass, it pines for the height of Goodfellas, in being a seminal genre feature. However, being stuck in the clouds harmed Mass greatly, going so far as to deflate such a seductively evil tale. Such blue skying isn’t bad for Legend, but it only pushes things so far.
This is the Tom Hardy show. Exploit him for all he’s worth.
The Kray Brothers’ differences are expressed through the dueling Hardy performance. In her voice overs, Reggie’s wife goes through her fearful feelings of Ronnie who, by all accounts, is quite the loose canon. He’s described as a violent, paranoid schizophrenic, going so far as to wield hammers in a brawl and commit a hit job after coercing a weak man into asking him. Ronnie is completely out of control, with only his Mother and Brother to keep him in slight check.
Reggie, being the more straight laced and personable type, has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Ronnie. He always has to look out for him, always has to protect him, always has to clean up his messes. As brothers do, they fight, leading to an emotional breakdown of relations, before being mended right away. This is Reggie’s burden and his blessing — being Ronnie’s twin. For better or worse, this is who he is.
Through his wife and his brother, Reggie is revealed to be the one in more of an aggressive crisis of identity and morality. Where Ronnie is at least true to his nature, Reggie is struggling to be brother, husband, son and gangster. He hates the man he is at times — the man he sees Ronnie to be. This mirrored reflection and conflict is where Legend hits its stride.
Removed from Tom Hardy’s seamless effort, Legend is a movie that is tonally challenged. What starts off as fun period piece thrills morphs abruptly into domestic drama, dropping all of its joy off a cliff, and blowing it up with dynamite. Movies like Auto Focus play this shift well by being more subtle when doing it. Movies like Super play this shift well by building the hard transitions into the story. Legend is, unfortunately, not as patient or as clever…
… but Tom Hardy is. What Legend refers to isn’t The Kray Brothers together — it would need to be plural if so — but Reggie alone, seeing Ronnie as someone he doesn’t want but must accept. It’s a sad destiny, but one that is begrudgingly chosen. Through Hardy’s dueling and contrasting roles, we relate heavily to the sibling rivalry, the want to neglect and the difficulty to love.
A performance like that exploits itself.
Rating — ***1/2
Like Pope of Greenwich Village but without the blind and deaf devotion, Legend is a conflicting movie about one man’s conflict with who he is and what he’s capable of. It’s charismatic and surprising, but off balance and out of tune. If you stare long enough at your reflection, does it stare back?