Judd: Americans have always had a love affair with it’s gangsters, real and fictional. Capone, Corleone, Bulger, Montana — the list is endless. The problem with this love affair is that while it’s relatively ethnically diverse, unless these mobsters are running a syndicate in the Good Ol’ US of A, equally charming crime families are overlooked. Legend, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (42, LA Confidential), and starring Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy as twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray, tells the true story of a East End crime family from across the pond.
The movie picks up not from the beginning of their rise, but about half way through, after the Krays have defeated a rival family and have started taking over London nightlife by running clubs, casinos and protection rackets. Reggie is the beautiful and charming brother who knows what it means to have good public relations. To keep the Rich and Famous feeling naughty by association, but never in danger. Ronnie is the exact opposite. He is a savage, paranoid schizophrenic homosexual, who enjoys the violent side of being a gangster. Roles that are Tom Hardy’s bread and butter.
Before I go on to gushing over Tom Hardy’s performance, Legend has it’s issues. The film is narrated by Reggie’s wife in a voiceover, and throughout the movie I kept wondering, “In what other gangster movie do they use the wife as a narrator? Casino? Good Fellas? The Departed?” I couldn’t remember, but it struck me that not being able to remember wasn’t the problem. Confusing so many of these movies for each other is the real problem. The Crime Movie is a genre where it’s easy to fall into the cliched, and Legend does nothing to bring something new to the party. The only thing that I felt Legend brought to the table, was that it was more character centric than it’s peers.
Which brings me to Tom as Ronnie and Reggie. Reggie divides his time between his business obligations and his wife, Frances (played by Emily Browning), with his wife receiving the short end of the stick. He uses his looks and his charm as his biggest weapons, but isn’t afraid to resort to violence or using his brother as muscle, when necessary. His loyalty to his brother is unbreakable, even when it becomes a detriment, a fact the film exploits to it’s fullest. This is Tom Hardy from Inception.
Ronnie on the other hand, is unabashedly unrefined, yet oddly eloquent. Heavyset and with a battered face, Ronnie lives in a trailer in the woods, loves the violence of being a gangster, and has no problem with speaking of his homosexuality, which I found most fascinating. Homosexuality was a crime at the time, not to mention gays were all considered foppish poofs. Ronnie believed it was best to live honestly and anyone that had a problem with it would be in for a world of hurt. Ronnie flew in the face of stereotypes of the time. Coarse but articulate; queer but violent. This is Tom Hardy from Bronson.
I can’t imagine any other actor, outside of a young Marlon Brando, that would be able to play two such diametrically opposed characters to the success that Hardy has, let alone play the characters in the same movie. From the different body types, facial expressions, mannerisms, ways of speaking and interacting with other characters and each other, Hardy characterizes each man with aplomb. If there is any reason to see Legend, it is for Hardy’s performances. Otherwise, Legend is nothing more than just another gangster movie, but this one as a cockney accent.
Judd: 2 1/2 stars