Directed by Brian Helgeland
If there are two ways to judge a cinematic portrayal of a real person—whether they look and act like the real person, and whether they act well regardless of appearance—Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs” was criticized much more for the first part. He acted brilliantly but was hardly a convincing lookalike. Tom Hardy, as twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray in “Legend,” has the first part down pat. He’s a dead ringer for both twins, who ruled London’s gangster underground in the 1960s. He acts well, too, giving the brothers unique traits while keeping them intricately tied. He does such an effective job, in fact, that every time I referred to Hardy in this paragraph, I at first wrote “they” as if he was, actually, two different actors.
The story, from writer-director Brian Helgeland (who also adapted the crime classics “Mystic River” and “L.A. Confidential”), is an exhaustive—an exhausting—retelling of the Krays’ rise to power. It lasts two hours, but felt like an all-day affair. The narration, from Emily Browning (who plays Reggie’s wife, Frances), is at first insufferable but becomes the godsend that makes “Legend” comprehendible. She fills us in on necessary developments, and her lines are some of the best-written in the film. Helgeland’s dialogue is effective in portraying the story of greed and betrayal, but it lacks its moment. It doesn’t have the one scene that sets it apart from other gangster movies. This is a far cry from “Goodfellas.” “Legend” is full of mostly typical criminal encounters—a couple underwhelming fights with other gangs, the exchange of money with higher powers. It’s unfortunately forgettable.
Whenever one actor plays two characters, I roll my eyes. It worked fine in Disney’s “The Parent Trap” all those years ago, when it was still new and creative. Armie Hammer did it well in “The Social Network,” but he was hardly the main character. More often, you get train wrecks like “Jack and Jill,” “Austin Powers,” or anything with Tyler Perry. But “Legend” avoids overdoing the quirk to the point of distraction. The Kray twins are more often apart than together, but even when they are together you never catch yourself overthinking things. That’s because Hardy is a perfect double-threat. He manages to play each character separately, so you rarely confuse the two. A more distinct frown and a pair of eyeglasses give Ronnie Kray away. Reggie is looser and more amiable. In a smaller role than this year’s “Kingsman,” Taron Egerton shows that he’s not a one-hit-wonder. The young British star has a bright future. Emily Browning convincingly plays the mob wife, who begins to question her husband’s criminal actions. Her role is predictable, but she doesn’t let that stop her.
“Legend” never makes its mark. The true story is an interesting one, and the long script tells the tale to the end. But despite a good set of performances from Tom Hardy, “Legend” never lives up to its name.