Crime doesn't pay but it sure as hell can look cool. Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy, with the aid of ol' movie magic, play twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray, two real life London gangsters from the 1960s whose exploits have been so glamorized in their native country you could accurately call the movie about their lives Legend. (Indeed, this is the second movie about the brothers, following 1990's The Krays.) Any film with Tom Hardy is automatically of note, so a double-whammy like this is certainly something worth catching. Unfortunately, beyond the performances and exquisite period décor, there's not much in Brian Helgeland's lengthy motion picture that you haven't seen numerous times before.
Reggie is the slick one. Dashing, debonair, silver-tongued and, despite having the strange profession of beating people up for money, he is a halfway decent guy. He likes running nightclubs, and maybe if he didn't come from the desolate East End of London he wouldn't have taken the illegal route to get there. (What the movie leaves out is that the Krays were both Jewish and Romani, thus double-outsiders.) Ronnie, bespectacled and a little beefier, is more brawn than brain. Medicated for paranoid schizophrenia, he's always a hair-trigger from violent eruption or meltdown. Plus, he's an out homosexual in an environment that is altogether unaccepting of such people, unless, that is, you're the boss. Either role would be a dream for an actor; Hardy gets both and is terrific in each direction. It's not exactly a mark of a quality film, but you can expect movie buffs to be mimicking Hardy from this one for a long time.
Our eyes and ears into the Krays' crazed world is Francis (Emily Browning), a somewhat troubled girl and sister to a Kray associate who eventually becomes Reggie's wife. As with films like GoodFellas, we see how Reggie uses the panache of nightclubs and power to woo her, but it eventually becomes clear that there's not much that can protect Reggie from his brother Ronnie, even though he's well aware that his behavior is becoming uncontrollable.
Legend is an odd picture in that every scene is engaging and watchable, but it fails to really build to anything. I can't say I learned too much new about their inner struggles after the 20-minute mark, and eventually I ceased to care to. How many pub fights can you watch, how many expletive-laden arguments can you hear? (Warning, some American viewers may need subtitles for this one. The world of the Krays is thick London East End – even going so far as to include a little Cockney Rhyming Slang.)
Legend's biggest problem is the meandering script, with many new scenes feeling repetitive. The one biographical section of the film that hints at being most interesting, in which Ronnie is consorting with a Member of Parliament in a series of gay orgies, quickly covered up in the press, zooms by. It's used to show how the Krays soon became “untouchable,” but it would have been fascinating to see what public perception of the brothers and the scandal was at the time.
It's a common frustration during this movie. “Why are we wasting our time with this, when this is such rich subject matter?” With the frame brimming with Tom Hardy in cool suits and thick accents it's hard to complain too much, but it's hard not to feel like The Krays are ripping us off a bit.