“Legend” began its theatrical run in Houston at Sundance Cinemas yesterday through Universal Pictures.
Based on John Pearson’s book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins, “Legend” chronicles British mobsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray (played simultaneously by Tom Hardy) during their rise and eventual downfall in the 1960s. The film, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (“Payback,” “A Knight’s Tale”), specifically looks at Reggie’s attempt at juggling evolving into a powerful presence in the gangster community and managing the psychopathic behavior of his brother Ronnie.
Tom Hardy has always been an impressive actor and having the privilege of watching his talent grow and flourish over the years ever since “Bronson” has been an extremely entertaining and enticing experience. One of the lines in “Legend” is taken directly from Tom Hardy’s phone calls to Charles Bronson/Michael Peterson in preparation for “Bronson,” which takes an even more interesting spin when you consider that Reggie Kray and Bronson/Peterson actually knew each other in real life while serving time in prison together.
It’s not often that you get a double dose of Tom Hardy in a film, so naturally whether or not you’re a fan of the English actor is going to weigh heavily in the enjoyment factor of the film. Hardy delivers two of his most engrossing performances to date as the Kray twins are so similar and yet so different at the same time and that’s thanks to how Hardy portrays them. Reggie is calm, collected, and polite but can switch to scary and violent at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile Ronnie’s schizophrenic behavior and extreme openness to his homosexuality makes him an unpredictable loose cannon.
One of the best sequences in the film is the bar fight featuring both Kray twins. The violent nature of the scene is downplayed thanks to Reggie’s infatuation with getting the perfect glass of beer and Ronnie’s utter disgust with no one knowing how to have a proper gun fight. This sequence is all the more incredible since it seems as though Hardy had a serious ankle injury while shooting. The film has these moments of dark humor that are laugh out loud funny mostly due to Hardy’s blunt delivery or absent-minded stare as Ronnie.
Tom Hardy is the reason to see “Legend” since the film is completely lacking otherwise. Paul Bettany and Christopher Eccleston are completely whitewashed and forgotten about as the film progresses; even Emily Browning’s sorrowful eyes and innocent nature aren’t able to make her memorable. The issue is that all mafia related films are beginning to bleed together. “Legend” feels too similar to this year’s “Black Mass,” but you’d be saying the opposite if “Legend” was released before “Black Mass.” The formula has just become too predictable: a gangster becomes criminally notorious, is constantly in a cat and mouse game with the cops, feuds with rival mafia gangs in the area, and eventually falls due to what was once a blossoming romance turning toxic.
“Legend” puts a slightly different spin on a familiar premise with twin brothers who work together and yet are always at each others throats since one of them isn’t mentally stable. Reggie tries so hard to make a legitimate business out of this as a club and casino owner, but Ronnie’s descent into madness makes it impossible to keep things afloat for very long. Another factor working against the film is Cockney English. The accents and slang used in the film are often difficult to understand, especially if you’re trying to listen to Ronnie speak; imagine Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises” talking with two cheeks full of marshmallows.
“Legend” is extraordinary because of Tom Hardy’s intense, passionate, and unquestionably diverse dual performances. He has this quiet determination about him that is absolutely intimidating in an unsettling way. The film illustrates how poisonous something like loyalty can be in situations like this. Building a fragile empire constantly in danger of crumbling down is made all the more absorbing by Tom Hardy’s captivating screen presence.