Standing alone, notoriety is an insufficient cinematic substitute for interesting subject matter or storylines. Thus does writer/director Brian Helgeland, the Oscar-winning force behind L.A. Confidental, disappoint with his latest, a study of the twin brothers who dominated London’s underworld in the 1960’s. Despite bravura performances by the gifted Tom Hardy in both leading roles, Legend layers scenes of brutishly explicit violence onto a biographical portrait of Ronnie and Reggie Kray that winds up providing neither insight into this pair of thuggish psychopaths nor incisive coverage of the socioeconomic conditions that allowed them to dominate the rackets in England’s capital for over a decade. Working from a book written by John Pearson entitled “The Profession of Violence”, Helgeland’s script offers little more than authentic Cockney accents, lurid blood-letting and an inexplicable void regarding British law enforcement’s apparent failure to deal effectively with a crime spree in the city’s blue-collar East End.
Hardy displays the mesmerizing intensity once associated with Marlon Brando’s early films; his magnetic presence dominates nearly every scene of this overlong melodrama. But his characters have so little depth that beyond admiring the actor’s ability to personify violent pathology, Legends fails to deliver anything that can’t be gleaned from similar programming provided by HBO, Showtime or other premium cable channels. There are no take-away lessons to be learned here and at its end, audiences can be forgiven for feeling slightly embarrassed at having paid for the privilege of witnessing explicitly staged depravity. If pornography must become increasingly graphic in order to successfully satisfy its jaded customers, can’t the same also be said of the depiction of ever more explicitly staged movie violence?
Hardy’s been so busy over the past 5 years that it’s hard to visit a multiplex without encountering his name on “one-sheets” advertising current and future movies. Since his breakout performance in the technically brilliant Inception, the actor has appeared in a dozen films and participated two T.V. mini-series. 2015 marked his appearance as a leading man in 4 films: a leaden adaptation of the crime thriller Child 44, followed by Mad Max Fury Road, this film and The Revenant, for which he’s competing for an Oscar. In each instance, his performances have involved the depiction of barely articulate men defined far more by that they do than what they say. Audiences have to go back to the actor’s spellbinding performance as a construction engineer in 2013’s Locke to experience the full range of Hardy’s talent. In Legends, both Ronnie and Reggie have scant knowledge of what drives them and even less interest in justifying their behavior. Can Hardy’s career survive if he’s relegated to one knuckle-dragging role after another?
There’s little to be said about cinematographer Dick Pope’s role here other that to note it pales in comparison to his Oscar nomination for the moodily evocative Mr. Turner. Most disappointingly, Helgeland’s dialogue catches fire only spasmodically. While that may accurately reflect The Krays’<span style="mso-spacerun:yes"> verbal skills, the script never rises above the trivial.
The Verdict? Lots of talent devoted to a turgid biography of gangster life, which offers little illumination of its characters and even less satisfaction to its audience.
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