LEGEND. A thriller in which Tom Hardy played a dual role

Helgeland’s film relies on several recurring motifs of gangster cinema.

Lukasz Budnik

9 January 2024

“I’m not a fan of Tom Hardy. Of course, this actor is endowed with charisma, and there is some mystery in his gaze. Directors love to film him from behind because he always looks majestic from that angle. He moves with a slightly swaying step, unhurriedly, but there is confidence and determination in his silhouette and posture. He has a husky voice, and he speaks words almost without opening his mouth. He’s a captivating tough guy. The features of his face indicate a turbulent past. Hardy is an extremely photogenic actor with a magnetic image. He’s a guy many would like to know, and even more would like to have something of him.

Paradoxically, for me, Hardy doesn’t work as a lead actor. In a supporting role, when he’s not the main character, he adds color and energy to films. Christopher Nolan knew this in Inception, George Miller knew it in the new Mad Max, and I suspect he’ll fit perfectly in Alejandro Iñárritu’s upcoming project The Revenant. When he doesn’t dominate the screen, as in Warrior, Lawless, or Legend (Locke being an exception), he starts to bore me. It’s not enough that he looks cool. I then see a poverty in his acting skills. He’s more of an action hero than a dramatic actor. Hardy has a few poses, expressions, and grimaces that he exploits repeatedly. Over time, he becomes monotonous. He’s not my idol.

In 2010s, Hardy made mistakes in choosing movie scripts. The fantastic Mad Max is intertwined with the tragic Child 44 and then the not much better Legend. Brian Helgeland, an Oscar winner for the screenplay of L.A. Confidential, takes us to London in the 1960s. Two twin brothers named Kray operate there, aspiring to take control of the capital of Britain. They are two brats with completely opposite characters. Reggie poses as a gentleman, a hypocrite trying to be more of a businessman than a criminal. Ronald doesn’t hide his fascination with the gangster image, an eccentric, drooling fury, portraying himself as the British Al Capone. Both brutally eliminate competition, make deals with American mobsters, and take over London clubs. They are not impressed at all by the police constantly monitoring them. Hardy is decent in both of these roles, but he probably won’t be remembered in the history of gangster cinema.

The director quickly runs out of ideas on how to engage the audience with this story. At several points, the influence of Scorsese’s gangster cinema is evident. The sequence when we follow Reggie into a club, where he guides his girlfriend and greets everyone, seems like a direct quote from Goodfellas. The director uses a similar color palette and employs long shots without editing cuts. Unfortunately, that’s the only memorable part of Legend.

Apart from that, we swim in a sea of smaller and larger plot pitfalls or misguided narrative ideas. For example, the off-voice of Reggie’s beloved telling about the turbulent years of her relationship with the London gangster is awkward. However, she doesn’t offer a new perspective; she repeats exactly what we see on the screen. She herself is a one-dimensional and banal character, and her position probably won’t interest anyone. Unfortunately for the film, her story is presented in a tone that is supposed to convince us that we are dealing with exceptional characters, events of significant importance, with the titular legend. It quickly becomes annoying, as it doesn’t match the events on the screen. It’s hard to like any of the characters in Legend or root for any of them. I watched the stories of the Kray brothers with a depressing indifference.

Helgeland’s film relies on several recurring motifs of gangster cinema. Of course, I can’t blame Legend for that because that’s the essence of film genres, constantly exploring the same themes and issues. However, it can be done well or poorly. In Legend, the director skims through various plots. Minimal drama is filled by Reggie’s relationship with Frances (Emily Browning). It’s hard to psychologically justify why this pair decides on such radical measures at a certain point. The police investigation looks like a makeshift addition, probably introduced only to make the audience aware that the characters might face any punishment for their further offenses.

The exploration of the criminal London underworld of the 1960s is also superficial and cursory. I think the director could have really carved out and brought out the heavy, oppressive atmosphere on this front. Instead, we get only two main characters surrounded by anonymous bodyguards. It’s a shame that Paul Bettany, who seems like a more interesting personality, only appears for a moment. The conflict between the gangs is closed already in the first act of the film. Any tension is eliminated. All that remains is sneak peeks at the watch.

Legend disappoints and bores, and some dialogues may leave you perplexed (the conversation between Reggie and his wife in prison!). It’s annoyingly superficial and facade-like cinema. The narrator reveals how it will all end in the first sentence. Then, without much harm to the film, you can comfortably fall into a two-hour nap and wake up at the end just to find out who survived.”

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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