The Only Legendary Figure Chronicled in ‘Legend’ is Tom Hardy

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One of the most famous scenes of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas is the Copacabana shot, a masterful one-shot scene where Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill takes Lorraine Bracco’s Karen through the rear entrance, through the kitchen, before finally having a special table placed before the glitzy stage for the young couple. Not only is the scene a masterful shot, it takes the audience into the mindset of Karen, the glitz and glamour whizzing by and slowly seducing her. A similar scene takes place rather early in Legend, the new film starring Tom Hardy in dual roles, where Hardy’s Reggie Kray takes the young Francis (Emily Browning) into his nightclub. In a lengthy shot, we see this kind of Cockney Copacabana shot as Reggie meets and greets with various people throughout the club. Only one thing is missing: what in the hell besides Hardy’s good looks seduces Francis? Having sat through the movie, I still can’t tell you.

Now, I don’t go into any movie, even a gangster movie, expecting Goodfellas. But writer-director Brian Helgeland’s film has a number of moments that reminded me of Scorsese’s umpteenth masterpiece with its use of voiceover, long Steadicam shots, and a soundtrack mainly consisting of hits from the ‘60s. One major difference was present early on and would only get worse as the bloated running time of Legend dragged on – there’s no tension, urgency, or vibrancy to this telling of the real life tale of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, twin brothers who would become infamous gangsters in the East End of London during the ‘60s.

Reggie is the cool and collected twin while Ronnie is the wild card, a violent man with schizophrenia. As Reggie teeters between the line of legal and criminal in an attempt to keep his relationship with Francis going, Ronnie thrives on the gangster lifestyle, craving brutality and thievery as viable solutions to each and every problem. The twins are constantly under surveillance by Nipper Read (Christopher Eccleston), a member of the London Police. Even though they’re under the watchful eye of the law, Reggie and Ronnie enter into a number of criminal schemes with British banker Leslie Payne (David Thewlis) and the American gangster Angelo Bruno (Chazz Palminteri). As these stories go, it’s only a matter of time before the criminal empire crumbles in a frenzy of arrests, violence, and personal pain.

As expected, Tom Hardy is dynamic in his dual roles. When Hardy is Reggie, he’s just cool with a Cockney accent. Wearing sleek suits with his hair slicked back, Reggie is the rational, though still unethical, half of these twin terrors. But when Hardy dons the glasses and somewhat subtle prosthetic nose as Ronnie, Hardy takes an already excellent performance to the next level. Not only is Ronnie a ticking time bomb of violence, but he’s also a homosexual in a time that being open about such things wasn’t socially acceptable – and Ronnie is quite forthright about these things, his primary boy toy Mad Teddy Smith (Taron Egerton) never far from his side. As Ronnie, Hardy speaks with a similar Cockney accent though keeping his jaw clenched, thus making him a bit more reserved in his manner of speaking. Whichever character Tom Hardy is playing, he demands attention on the screen in a performance that is as menacing as it is funny.

But a committed movie star can’t make a good movie all by himself. If that were the case, no movie stars would be in bad movies. Despite a few moments of life, Brian Helgeland can’t make Legend into anything befitting its title. As a director, Helgeland does his job with an assist from cinematographer Dick Pope. Legend never has an offensive aesthetic, and some of its violent blows land quite well. Where Helgeland falls short is with his screenplay (adapted from John Pearson’s book The Profession of Violence). Whether it’s the police or competing gangs, there’s never any real tension or dramatic weight to the Kray’s story as presented by Helgeland and company. At first, the film is lively as it seems to be setting up its pieces, but as the film goes on it becomes more and more apparent that Legend will be setting up its pieces until the crumble at the end. Even the voiceover that is at first innocuous takes a turn for the ludicrous as the crumble begins.

Legend is a movie that drowns two dynamic performances from Tom Hardy with a narrative that was inked in molasses. And it’s a shame. Legend has a number of elements that should add up to a much more interesting film, but they never come together longer than a scene or two. Falling short with a movie isn’t the worst thing in the world, and Brian Helgeland, an Oscar winner, will be alright. He just had the misfortune of naming his misfire Legend. Tom Hardy may be, but this film is anything but.

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