At some point, earlier in the year, one of the movie blogs I follow put up a list of trailers for movies that would be coming out this year that looked great. It’s a pretty typical kind of blog post, showing some cool trailers that may have slipped through your cracks, trying to show how neat they look. And one of them was for an upcoming British movie called Legend that was going to star Tom Hardy in a dual role of two infamous British gangsters. And let me tell you, I would have been interested in Legend if I had just heard that elevator pitch, and hadn’t seen the trailer. But I did watch the trailer, and man did it have me hooked quick. I really, really enjoy Tom Hardy as an actor, even if he sometimes puts in incredibly mumbly performances. He’s just oozing with charisma and can actually put in a hell of performance with far less dialogue than you would imagine, like it the wonderful Mad Max: Fury Road, or even make an interesting villain that requires all of the emoting to just come from the eyes, the the mediocre Dark Knight Rises. And this looked like a really fun job for him, playing two very different but equally unhinged British gangsters at once. It’s a very gimmicky idea, but one that could definitely be pulled off well. And the trailer showed not only his wacky and fun performance, but also a very stylish gangster movie. Too bad that the best part of this movie was that trailer though.
I think it’s really interesting that the world loves gangster movies so much. I studied criminology in college (because I really wanted to make the big bucks) and as interesting as I found the classes that tried to explain why people commit crimes, I found the classes that were bent more on why people don’t commit them even more interesting. It could be so easy to be a criminal, at least that’s what most non-criminals think. Being bad almost seems human nature, and it’s only because we want to be functioning members of society that we behave. So seeing gangsters, people who have rejected societal norms and are just taking what they want, appeals to the masses. It’s escapism. But since people love gangster stories, that does mean that they’ve made a lot of them. It’s become a bona fide genre at this point, a little tail poking out of the larger Crime genre. We love gangsters. And since we love them, you can sometimes get movies that people kind of half-assed, or just don’t work. And that’s where we get to Legend.
The story is pretty simple, mainly because it’s pretty much every other gangster movie you’ve ever seen, except with the gimmick of it being brothers. The two brothers, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, who took over the underground of London’s West and East End. Reggie was the more together one, a nightclub owner with dreams of controlling more of the crime in the city, while Ronnie was a paranoid schizophrenic who was obsessed more with being a “gangster” than a successful criminal. They terrorize the city, knocking out rivals gang members, taking over more nightclubs, and just generally building their empire. Along the way we see Ronnie, who is surprisingly open about his homosexuality for the 60s, try to con a British lord into helping him create a city in Uganda and just generally be a horrible caricature of a gangster, while Reggie tries to keep him in line while having a very standard and boring relationship with a woman named Frances played by Emily Browning. Reggie is a pretty shitty husband, always putting the business ahead of his wife, until he turns straight up abusive, and she kills herself, even though she was narrating the movie. Ronnie then tries to have a guy that works for them as their business manager killed since he’s crazy, and that gets the police on their tails. And that’s just at the worst time, because Reggie was already pissed about Frances’ suicide, so he kills a random dude, leading to him getting thrown into prison. The end.
Now, before I get too into the problems with the movie, there are some good parts. Primarily Tom Hardy’s performances. Reggie is charming and sleazy while Ronnie is a bubbling pot of crazy that occasionally boils over into incredibly violent outbursts, including a crazy bar fight where he dual-wields hammers. There’s some fun music in the movie, and some occasionally well-designed set pieces, like the aforementioned hammer fight, but other than that the movie was just generally dull. For being a movie about two bloodthirsty gangster twins, it’s incredibly formulaic and boring. It reaches the point where it’s like playing Gangster Movie Bingo. Superfluous narration? Check! Rival gangsters that need supplanting? Check! Ties to the American Mafia with a typecast Gangster actor? Check (Chazz Palminteri)! Police officer who is way too obsessed with bringing down the protagonists? Check! It gets kind of ridiculous. It’s also incredibly odd that the movie is narrated by Frances, and at some points seems to try to make her the protagonist of the movie. It’s like there was a draft of the script that was all from her point of view and what it was like to be the wife of a gangster and sister-in-law to a psychopath, which would have been an interesting movie. But then they got Tom Hardy to play the twins, and that concept got trashed, but still had some weird elements like a vestigial tail. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it sure feels like that. And it would have worked so much better if someone had told Emily Browning that she was supposed to be the emotional core of the movie, and should maybe try to emote? I don’t want to be too mean here, but I’ve seen a couple movies with her in it (I payed human money to see Sucker Punch!), and I’ve never really been impressed with her abilities. She was just one of several faults that piled upon the movie, and eventually not even the strength of Tom Hardy’s crazy performance was enough to drag this movie to a new and interesting level. Just really disappointing.
However I will say seeing Tom Hardy in a tux, gambling, and smoking really made me want to see him play James Bond, but in like a period piece Bond movie. That would be neat.
Legend was written and directed by Brian Helgeland and distributed by Universal Pictures, 2015.
Categories: Reel Talk