Directed by: Brian Helgeland.
Written by: Brian Helgeland based on the book by John Pearson.
Starring: Tom Hardy (Ronald Kray / Reggie Kray), Emily Browning (Frances Shea), Christopher Eccleston (Nipper Read), Colin Morgan (Frank Shea), Tara Fitzgerald (Mrs. Shea), Shane Attwooll (George Cornell), David Thewlis (Leslie Payne), Frankie Fitzgerald (Jack Dickson), Chazz Palminteri (Angelo Bruno), John Sessions (Lord Boothby).
Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas is one of the greatest films ever made – a viscerally exciting, violent film about the rise and fall of a gangster that starts out seducing the audience with its dangerous bravado, and then upends that in the final stretch. It is a film that is beloved by critics, audiences and filmmakers alike – the last of which you can tell because of just how often it is imitated. The most recent imitation is Brian Helgeland’s Legend which desperately wants to be GoodFellas. It copies the films style – you can say it either pays loving homage to Scorsese’s film, or say it rips it off if you prefer – in many scenes – like a scene of a gangster walking his girl into a club, done in a long tracking shot, or in the voiceover narration that is pervasive, and in many other little details. Legend is, of course, not as good as GoodFellas – few films are really, and so it ends up being a rather pale imitation. Yet, there is still a reason to see the film – and that’s Tom Hardy’s dual performance as Ronald and Reggie Kray – twin brother, who rose up in the London underworld throughout the 1960s, and were responsible for all sorts of death, crime and general mayhem.
Hardy seems to delight in coming up with a different, almost unintelligible way to speak in every movie he does – the clearest his voice has ever been is probably Locke, where he donned an almost prissy English accent. Most of the time though, he grunts and grumbles in a different accent, trying hard to be a new Brando – and dammit all, if sometimes he doesn’t succeed. In Legend, although he plays twins, the vocal inflections of both of them are wholly unique to each character. Reggie is the smarter of the two – violent in a controlled way, and its he who runs the business and makes it a success – he who everyone wants to work with. His brother Ronald is a paranoid schizophrenic, who is likely to explode at any moment, whether or not he’s on his medication. Everything Reggie builds, Ronald is apt to destroy at some point.
The other major character is Frances (Emily Browning), the young woman who eventually becomes Reggie’s wife – and acts as the narrator to the story for some reason (I think it’s to pull a third act twist on the audience, but no matter). Poor Browning isn’t really given much to work with here – her character is conceived as a stereotype, and never gets to rise above that for the entire length of the movie.
The movie kind of meanders, never really settling down into any sort of plot. I was rolling with the movie, having quite a bit of fun in the first hour, but as it dragged on, the film becomes less fun – part of that is by design (again, it really wants to be GoodFellas, who did this masterfully), and part of it is because it becomes clear Helgeland doesn’t really have anywhere to go with the film- he’s just dining out on one cliché after another.
This isn’t to say that Legend isn’t a fun movie – it is, for the most part, and it’s always interesting to see Tom Hardy work – and he certainly does that. But everything around him seems rather poorly conceived and repetitive.