By Bob Bloom
“Legend” is a ferocious feature built on the mesmerizing performances of Tom Hardy as twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray, gangsters who ruled the London underworld in the 1960s.
Hardy is animalistic and unpredictable as the vicious hoodlums who used intimidation and force to climb the criminal food chain.
More than anything else, “Legend” serves as a showcase for Hardy, who creates two distinct personalities.
Ronnie is certifiably insane, a paranoid schizophrenic who would rather fight or kill and enjoys being a gangster. He is childlike and openly homosexual, surrounding himself with pretty-boy henchmen.
Reggie is more thoughtful and levelheaded. He views crime as a business, though he, too, enjoys roughing it up with rival factions.
The technical expertise that puts two Hardys on the screen at once is impressive. Two sequences stand out — the first is a pub brawl in which the Krays outfight a half dozen or so opponents. Even more outstanding is a nightclub set-to between the brothers in which they trash the place and beat the living crap out of each other.
Where “Legend” falters is in the storyline. It is very vague as to details of the Krays’ rise from East End hoods to the powerful crime princes of London. The film starts with them as adults, already into illicit activities. No hint of how they began — or even why they turned to crime — is offered.
The screenplay, by Brian Helgeland, offers no hints to their past.
Exposition by David Thewlis’ Leslie Payne, who is basically the brains behind the twins, offers updates on their steady rise.
Helgeland, who also directs, seems more interested in the brotherly dynamics of the twins, rather than offering details of their ascent.
Helgeland is best when displaying the brothers’ dependency on each other. Reggie, when he can, constantly watches out for Ronnie, making sure he takes the pills needed to keep him on an even keel.
Ronnie, on the other hand, feels lost and abandoned when Reggie marries Frances (Emily Browning), another East End resident.
It is Frances who narrates the story, filling in the gaps, as well as offering some much needed emotional balance to the film.
While “Legend” definitely has its drawbacks, you basically overlook or ignore them because of Hardy. His characterizations are superb, showing the contradictions and nuances of brotherly sociopaths who are laws unto themselves.
With “Legend,” and such previous features as “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Locke,” Hardy cements himself as one of today’s most dynamic actors working in films.
The feature opens a new world of possibilities for this versatile actor, making you impatient to see what he will accomplish next.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
3 stars out of 4
(R), graphic violence, language, sexual references