I ran out of Ritalin…Legend could be described as a biopic and it could be described as a crime thriller, yet Helgeland’s picture is somehow uncategorizable as really either. This film feels like a lot of other films that take on the onerous task of depicting real people: it comes across more like cliff notes of the source material rather than an adaptation. None of these people ever feel real even though they are based on real people. In a milieu of crime, it doesn’t delve far enough into that aspect. Instead, acting like a calorie wise, lite and heart healthy option (read: anemic and bland), it relies on stereotypical synecdoches of “gangsta lyfe” where fat wads of cash are bandied about as big men puff on big cigars. All flash and no substance. From the context of a biopic, the exploration is equally shallow.Though both Ronnie and Reggie’s romantic lives are present in the film, they never establish any sort of emotional resonance. So then we wonder, does the film want to look at the sibling dynamics and explore their relationship? Are we looking at the effect that the Kray twins had on the east end of London in the 60s? Well, yes… And, no, simultaneously. Because again, the biggest problem with this picture is that it never seems to establish any kind of focus. It was as if, a checklist of story beats was made that needed to be hit and once that had been satisfied, they called it a day.
This is the song that never ends…Going hand in hand with the lack of focus is the almost too steady pacing of the film. Perhaps this lack of focus and super steady pacing is meant to evoke a slice-of-life quality in the film, but what comes across is too shallow a cross-sectional sampling of the Kray’s lives. Our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs, but for everyone’s well-being, sometimes the wiser decision is to exercise restraint and to find a good eye for editing. (No one wants a Mr. Creosote Situation metaphorically—or literally. Especially literally.)
This is Hardynation…No surprises here, Tom Hardy is a powerhouse. He is imposing when he needs to intimidate, gentle when he needs to woo and funny when the scene calls for it. Whether he’s the volatile and eccentric Ronnie or the slick and charming Reggie, Hardy once again proves that he is a chameleon. It is to be expected; but, good work is good work and deserves recognition as such. He joins good company in pulling this stunt off despite this being no revelatory acting challenge (Orphan Black, anyone?). It is understandable why actors gravitate towards such opportunities: when well executed, it’s eminently rewarding. Yet, even when a performance is expertly delivered, if this is the only draw to the film, then it feels like a gimmick used to fill seats.
All aboard the runaway train…To some extent, it is feasible that this project got a little out of hand as Helgeland first conceptualized Hardy as Reggie without having anyone in mind for Ronnie. Hardy, however, initially gravitated towards playing Ronald only agreeing to the project if he could play both Krays. This development undoubtedly puts a technical challenge on Helgeland (and company) on top of the myriad other potential challenges of making a biopic/crime thriller, which is why I am ultimately sympathetic of the flaws in Legend. This is a fine film. It’s not moving the sun and the stars anytime soon; and, it’s also not going to make your eyes bleed. Ronnie and Reggie Kray may have been legendary, but the same cannot be said of Helgeland’s Legend, which is only disappointing because I had high hopes.