Decent films always offer some kind of surprise, good films offer a great surprise, bad films surprise in all the wrong ways – Brian Helgeland’s ‘Legend’, a biopic about the infamous Kray twins, straddles between decent and good, but it’s the bad surprise that threatens to derail this flick.
Tom Hardy offers a towering performance as both twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray who, at no point during this film’s two hour run time do you ever realise are actually the same guy. It’s a monumental cinematic achievement – Hardy is sublime playing two very different characters, the grounded and often warm Reggie against his psychopathic child – like monster brother Ronnie. Both in appearance and personality Hardy crafts two very different men who’s brilliant relationship carries this film into positive surprise areas. The main surprise here is the comedy – Ronnie is a fantastic black humour device. He steals almost every scene with an oblivious naivety to the consequences of his often bloody actions, his homosexuality is hilariously exaggerated against his otherwise stone cold, unloving character traits and it’s Ronnie that delivers some of the funniest lines in cinema this year, including some laugh out loud visual gags.
But, this surprise threatens to be a bad one. In terms of enjoyment Legend can’t really be faulted, but as a film Helgeland’s effort is deeply flawed. Its genre is uncomfortably uncertain. The first hour or so is a brilliant comedy caper that is light in biopic and heavy in cinematic panache – the second hour delves into an unsettling, often serious drama (mostly revolving around Reggie’s relationship with Frances, which I’ll (unfortunately have to) come on to later.) We end up flicking between ultra melancholic to hyperbolic hilarity in a matter of one scene transition – perhaps this gulf between the two twins is intentional, but there’s a fine line between creative artistic choices and just plain bad schizophrenic tone. I felt bad for laughing at Ronnie at points, but I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to – Ronnie becomes comedy relief and almost a criminal waste of character by flirting with one dimensional personas instead of a realistic and deep man skirting with catharsis.
Now, the main fault of the film arises with Frances’ (Emily Browning’s) relationship with Reggie (also Tom Hardy.) Early in the film, a deranged Ronnie remarks both that she is a ‘ghost’ and has ‘nothing to her.’ Not for the first time this year (I’m looking at you Fantastic Four) the film’s script acknowledges the deep rooted problems with the film’s script. You’d think considering this piece is a biopic it shouldn’t be monumentally hard to create an interesting character, after all, she WAS a real person – yet her emptiness, her flippant influence to the plot and her baseless moaning over Reggie’s antics not only throws the film into a confused muddle (a film already uncertain of what to focus on – the brothers, the police after the brothers, the brothers’ enemies, or the relationship between Frances and Reggie) but also makes you question the decision to have her in the film at all – leading to severe issues in the genre – its struggle to be a biopic or commit to comedy or drama – its struggle, like Frances, to be anything at all. It’s a wonder they chose the most uninteresting character to needlessly narrate the thing.
Some of this is improved towards the ending though – Frances’ nothingness somewhat begins to work as her character development as Reggie’s life is thrown into an abysmal mess by his chaotic brother. Ronnie’s most human moments come in his confiding to her, his catharsis thankfully realised and her purpose, thankfully, just about purposeful. That being said, Legend can’t escape a final fundamental problem – abysmal structure. As earlier mentioned, there’s no focus and with no focus, there’s no beginning, middle and end. There’s no continuity and most criminally, the film could have ended at any point in its final hour yet seemed to drag on way beyond a point when the credits should have rolled. You never know where you are, or where you’re going – Legend becomes something of a bizarre affair.
Yet, me giving it a B- despite this critically flawed technical issues speaks volumes of Hardy’s performance at the twins as characters. The script has brilliant moments of comedy, of familial development. Some scenes are genuinely emotional, some scenes genuine difficult to watch – there are bright ideas and bright performances – it is in fact a film that’s almost impossible to hate. It’s divisive – for movie goers it’ll be a great time, for movie critics it’s glaringly bad. B- seems a fair middle ground and at least gives Hardy the credit he deserves for pulling off an acting masterclass.
Hilarious but messy, it’s entertaining none the less; Legend doesn’t exactly live up to its name.