|'The film's fast structure, like presenting an article in bullet points instead of prose, is repeatedly successful.'|
Legend's central problem is that it does not know whether it wants you to laugh at, run from or detest its central characters, the Kray twins, both portrayed here by Tom Hardy. It is a problem highlighted by two key scenes late on which show writer/director Brian Helgeland at his most indecisive and arguably naive.
In one, the ostensibly more likeable Kray twin, Reginald, doles out vicious on-screen violence to a character the audience has been primed not to like. The character has failed to live by the rules defined by the film and, as such, Reggie is 'justified' in his visceral punishment. In another, Reginald again deals out a level of violence, but this time off-screen, to a character we like, whilst Reggie has been primed as drunk in a previous scene. The two don't add up. Helgeland presents the violence of the later on-screen scene as his 'honest' portrayal of two London hoods who were doubtless vicious and calculating, whilst simultaneously hiding from us the type of violence that would have damaged their 'likeable', often jocular characterisation. 'Sure these guys were violent... but against other criminals', Helgeland seems to say, 'that other stuff? Let's not worry about that.' It is a perfect example of an equation involving possessing cake and plentiful eating.
The Legend of the title also speaks to the problem. You assume it is taken from author John Pearson's book: Notorious: The Immortal Legend Of The Kray Twins, but Helgeland again never settles. Are the Kray's 'legends'? Is their legend true? Is this film here to debunk it? Prop it up? Christ, at least what does this film think of the Kray mythology, or the Kray's on screen and in print? You're none the wiser come the close.
That said, it is difficult to argue that the director has not made an entertaining pop Drama. At over two hours, Legend should feel long, but its individual segments fly by. Relatively early on, after Reggie has met narrator Frances (Emily Browning), he has a brush with prison. There's a fight and Reggie's superiority is assured. Within five minutes or so he is out and the film moves on to the next plot point. This structure, like presenting an article in bullet points instead of prose, is repeatedly successful. It leads to the aforementioned moral quandaries (straight after Reggie's violence against the 'innocent' party we've moved on and there are more laughs) but it is difficult to argue against its ability to provide satisfaction.
If you are already a Tom Hardy fan then prepare to be a Tom Hardy fanatic. It is one thing to bring out subtleties between similar characters in different films (Reggie and Ron are both individually different to Hardy's Bronson, despite their innate similarities), but quite another to do it in the same production. Hardy's Ron portrayal will steal the attention, but any moment where Reggie is forced from his calculating, charming exterior shows Hardy at a different level. Watch for Reggie whispering 'because I can't kill you' to Ron very late on. It's a contender for line delivery of the year and it develops the character exponentially.
There's more good work with Frances as a character, even if Browning brings little to the table, but at least you can see the thought process involved in trying to work out how to elevate the dreaded 'first female lead' in a male dominated film. Elsewhere Legend is slightly too predictably pristine. The views of London it presents are all clean-lined streets and honest boozers; white clothes washing in the streets without a hint of soot. It could be a metaphor for where Helgeland falls down on the Krays. 'Whitewash guv, don't ask me.'