Screened Out – Legend

By : Stephen Miller
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Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Taron Egerton

There’s about an hour and forty minutes of good stuff here. Unfortunately, this biopic is nearly two hours and fifteen minutes long. It also focuses on the boring parts. Legend doesn’t completely claim what’s shocking about its real-life story.

The flick does offer the gimmick of Tom Hardy playing twins. Set in 1960s London and concerning two very fascinating gangster personalities, it should have had so much more. It should’ve explored Ronnie Kray’s violent sexuality and his and his brother’s dangerous commitment to each other, even as their relationship promised ruin.

The notorious Kray brothers deserve a more daring movie than this.

The notorious Kray brothers deserve a more daring movie than this.

Personally, I think the notorious, cruel Kray brothers – one straight, one gay – deserve a jaunty, Mod-style piece with lots of comedy and momentum. I imagine what Joel and Ethan Cohen or even Guy Ritchie could do. Some dark humor does emerge infrequently between the slog from one fact to the next. The music and art direction are on point; the pace, focus, and editing here are not.

The Krays were just small-time crooks when gay brother Ronnie was released from a mental institution. Still, Scotland Yard tailed them, very unsuccessfully. Using clubs and bars as fronts, the Kray twins gained more and more power, property, and money. It wasn’t long before they were murdering people and doing a fairly good job covering it up – or at least delaying imprisonment.

There is a lot of interesting stuff here. Reggie seemingly never judged his brother’s sexuality. Ronnie was on medication for schizophrenia. Ronnie always has a coterie of dangerous homosexuals around him; one, Teddy Smith (Taron Egerton of Kingsman) was committed to him. Ronnie openly professed his passion for violent sex and orgies. Less physically attractive, Ronnie also expressed an almost incestuous love for Reggie. These parts didn’t make the film as strongly as they probably should have, because they’re unique and they would’ve made the film unusual.

Director/screenwriter Brian Helgeland chose the safer, less interesting aspects to motivate the movie.

Director/screenwriter Brian Helgeland chose the safer, less interesting aspects to motivate the movie.

Instead, Legend uses Reggie’s girlfriend and later wife, played by Browning of Sucker Punch. She narrates without drive; her gangster-wife story is typical. As a personality, she never moves beyond being a woman taken in by Reggie’s charm, unable to fend against his allure and manliness.

At least Hardy is a very talented character actor, and he gets to show that off. Legend is further proof he hasn’t let his handsomeness take away from his varied roles (like, say, Brad Pitt did after Twelve Monkeys). Playing disparate, mentally unbalanced twins must be a blast. It’s also a lot of fun to watch at first. He’s helped along by glasses (which the Krays never wore) and some subtle prosthetics.

Unfortunately, the script makes the straight twin, Reggie, more prominent. The gay brother, Ronnie, becomes more of a caricature as the plot churns on, the tale becoming lopsided. Ronnie is the more twisted – and therefor more interesting one. Nothing in Reggie’s marriage is new to film.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Director/screenwriter Brian Helgeland (42, A Knight’s Tale) apparently doesn’t think so. It’s not surprising; Helgeland is well known for inconsistent tone. Legend suffers from it.

If it were merely about the costumes, the copious violence, the jazzy score, the setting, the camera tricks, and Hardy’s talent, Legend would be just that: legendary. As it is, it’s mostly the same gangster love story told yet again.

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