"Legend" doubles down on Tom Hardy; skimps on everything else
What is with our fascination with bad men? The Wolf of Wall Street was perhaps one of the most popular films of 2013, following the story of real-life fraudulent scumbag Jordan Belfort who has somehow gained love and acclaim from his depiction in the film. That being said, I am by no means comparing the brilliance of Scorsese to Brain Helgeland’s (unexceptional) adaptation of the Kray brothers’ story. Perhaps the only comparable aspect of both films is running time, and although Legend runs a full 50 minutes shorter that Wolf of Wall Street, it sure felt much, much longer.
The first act of Legend is smooth and sleek: we revel in the criminal debauchery and welcome the occasional bout of explosive violence set to 60’s beats (some jazzy blungeoning, if you will). I loved the scene that gives us our first taste of Reggie’s club; the camera work expertly makes the audience feel like they were a punter dodging their way through the cramped crowd. As the film transitions into the second act, however, it all goes to shit. There is no cohesion, it is as if the film had forgotten where it was going and instead found itself dawdled around the grim back lanes and enticingly excessive clubs of the West End for the remaining hour and a half.
The story of Legend is narrated by Francis, a lil ol’ cockney lass who falls for Reggie Kray. Sometimes, having an embedded narrator in a movie can work fantastically. In this case, however, Francis was perhaps overly involved in this story. She was supposed to be the audience surrogate, opening the door into the Krays’ world, but I did not find her relatable enough to help bridge the divide. She didn’t act as a door, but instead a dirty, stained-glass window. Perhaps my biggest issue with her character is that she just doesn’t fit in a gangster biopic. One good thing about Francis is that she works texturally, her softness both counteracts and exacerbates the roughness of the Kray brothers. The only problem is, I could not muster the energy to give a shit about her story. I’m not a betting woman, so I won’t even try to put it down to the writing, directing or Emily Browning’s performance.
The film is certainly stronger when it’s punching through to the audience with a greasy loveable ruffian chic rather than getting bogged down in the sloppy romantic dirge between Reggie and Francis. Movies these days try too hard to please all audiences. I say just pick an approach and stick with it, who cares about people on dates. As the great Ron Swanson once said, “Never half ass two things, whole ass one thing”.
Speaking of asses, let’s talk about Tom Hardy. Who am I kidding - I love the guy in spite of the recent revelation about his (rather embarrassing) old MySpace account. Thankfully, he holds a much more likeable social media presence on @tomhardyholdingdogs, arguably one of the best novelty Instagram accounts in recent memory (good enough to rival @marc_fennell_outfits).
Hardy is renowned for his slightly-hard-to-understand-speech thing he has going on (Is enunciation just not cool anymore?). But I almost feel like it’s a technique to get us to lean forward and pay attention. While I hardy had to strain to decipher Hardy’s cockney twang in Legend, the same could not be said for his roles in The Dark Knight Rises, Peaky Blinders or Mad Max. Yet, all of these productions smash Legend out of the water. The duality of Hardy’s performance is far and away the best aspect of the film. I never knew that I wanted to see two Tom Hardies fight each other against a backdrop of dissonant drum sounds, but by golly that’s one off the bucket list. When twins are involved, having a dual dynamic is accepted, but the combination of contrast and harmony between Ronnie and Reggie is riveting (is it weird that I’m attracted to one Hardy intonation but not the other?). That being said, Legend does not reach the Orphan Black level of technicality within scenes between the twins. Maybe they should have worked more on that- I mean, wasn’t that the main drawcard for this film? I craved a much bigger focus on the relationship between the two brothers because it was just so enjoyable to see unfold.
I do think that the use of costume and set design really helped nail the era but the score was truly stellar. Composer Carter Burwell (also having composed for movies like Fargo, Seven Psychopaths and Where The Wild Things Are) was responsible for the music, which was as polished as the sleek cars and sleeker hair, but was this a façade for the rough final cut that was this film.
The one nice thing I have left to say about Legend is that it is surprisingly deft with its representation of mental health. I feared that the film may be heavy handed with Ronnie’s paranoid-schizophrenia and Francis’ depression and addiction issues but it was quite respectfully done. There was even a nod to the double edged sword of medicating illness held within the irony of the pills that Reggie regarded as Ron’s savior spelling his wife’s downfall.
Remember when I likened the violence in Legend as ‘jazzy bludgeoning’? Well, that’s kind of how I feel about the film. Stylistically there was some really cool aspects to Legend and Hardy is nearly always a surefire win, but I felt bashed over the head by the end of the film. The sad thing is, I’m pretty sure the violence in the film was nonsensical as Legend did not know what the friar tuck it was doing with what could have been a really compelling story.
3/5 rolling pins that should have been guns
"Legend" is currently screening in theatres near you