A gangster travesty featuring a caricatural Tom Hardy and a filmmaker who should have been content with writing scripts.
The gangster genre has produced legendary movies. Everyone can name them so I won’t bother. These movies usually follow a pre-established framework: the lead character is a ruthless criminal to whom we can’t relate but who provokes a sentiment of fear in the spectator. The social context explains the roughness and fosters the advent of the criminal and of his gang. This gang is hierarchically organised which leads to a power struggle for the throne. Other frameworks exist, but usually resemble this.
Legend, despite the name, is not one of them.
Two twins, Reggie and Ronnie, famous UK gangsters, head a merciless mafia that rules over 1960s London.
I actually really like Tom Hardy, especially in his role in “The Drop“. His character was both calm and with a insatiable interior rage that begged to explode. I was thus hoping to see him in a cold and ruthless gangster outfit. Imagine my joy when I heard there were two of him!
But actually, this is the first flaw of the movie. Tom Hardy tries throughout the movie to mark the difference between both characters, pushing it quite often towards ridicule and caricature. We particularly feel it when he plays Ronnie, gay and somewhat retarded. He just constantly over does it, forcing us to laugh without knowing if it’s on purpose or not. From that point on, we realize that the movie is going to be long and will keep us wondering if this was supposed to be a comedy.
It’s not unusual for an actor to play multiple roles in the same movie. To name only a few, Mike Myers in Austin Powers or even Eddie Murphy playing a total of 8 roles in the Nutty Professor. It usually works as long as the physical differences between the characters are obvious. That isn’t the case in Legend. Tom Hardy doesn’t explore a wide enough range of emotions for this to work which could have benefited from a strong director to help him reach the right tone.
And here lies another problem. While Brian Helgeland is a very respectable screenwriter (LA Confidential, Mystic River), he doesn’t make the cut as a director (Payback, The Order or to a lesser degree, A Knight’s Tale). His directing of the actors comes very close to a ridiculous performance. Not mentioning Tom, he lets Emily Browning (Frances, Reggie’s wife also seen in The Host) compete for The Most Inexpressive Face of 2015, facing no other than Steven Seagal and a Barbie doll for the prize. She narrates the movie and is supposed to be the reason of the downfall of the Kray Twins but her character is quickly sacrificed, I won’t dwell too long on the rest of the cast which features a good number of British actors (David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston) who must have wondered what they were doing there.
It seems that the technical expertise required to shot a movie with two characters played by the same actor was one step too far for Brian Helgeland. The process has nonetheless not changed since the 60s (split screen and each scene shot twice). He is constrained throughout the movie and doesn’t manage to pull it off. He spends a large amount of time doing close ups of Tom Hardy, as if trying to make sure the spectator understands which brother is in front of us, just in case the grotesque mimic weren’t enough. Tip of the hat to the fight scene between the Kray Twins which has the fluidity and editing of a Lumiere Brothers movie…
Adding to all this, the scenario is filled with unanswered questions: How does the empire actual function? Where is the police in all this? Where are the temporal landmarks? There is an absence of any real conflict or opposition to the two brothers, which could have been a great theme but would have required a Scorsese to evade the technical limitations of Helgeland. The other characters oscillate between the ridiculous, especially the police, and the cartoon-esque, such as the other gang members.
The movie is mostly shot in real locations. It’s unnoticeable, and I actually thought it was shot in studio on a green background. The one bright spot comes from the soundtrack which calls to mind the Swinging London era. Nevertheless, it is sometimes well used (in the music club owned by the two brothers for instance) and at other times it feels like we have been parachuted in Ocean’s Eleven, preparing for a robbery.
Tom Hardy has been criticized for his performance in Batman. The good news, no one will remind him of it. The bad news, they might remind him of Legend.
image source: studiocanal