[Screen It]

"LEGEND"
(2015) (Tom Hardy, Emily Browning) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Twin brothers differ in how to run their criminal organization that rules much of East End London in the 1960s.
PLOT:
It's the 1960s and twins Reggie (TOM HARDY) and Ronnie Kray (TOM HARDY) are notorious criminals who rule much of London's East End, yet mostly manage to avoid being caught red-handed by the authorities, such as local cop Leonard "Nipper" Read (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTONE) who's often tailing them. With the addition of Leslie Payne (DAVID THEWLIS) as their business manager, their reach and influence is growing to the point that it's attracted the American mafia, namely that of Angelo Bruno (CHAZZ PALMINTERI) showing up to negotiate a business deal between the trans-Atlantic crime families.

Reggie has also drawn the attention of college student Frances Shea (EMILY BROWNING) and the two quickly become a couple, much to the dismay of her single mother. Frances likes the attention, but would love to see Reggie go legit, something he no intention of doing. The same holds true to a greater extent for the more brutish Ronnie.

He doesn't really like Frances, doesn't trust Leslie, and would rather spend time with his array of young men, such as Teddy Smith (TARON EGERTON), who share his lifestyle of homosexuality, intimidation and using violence as a means to an end. As their criminal empire grows, the twins must contend with their different personalities and differing ways of running their business that often put them at odds with each other.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
There's a point in the movie "Legend" -- a crime drama about London's notorious twin brother gangsters who essentially ran the place in the 1950s and '60s -- where the occasional voice-over narrator and wife to one of those mobsters explains the social acceptance and intermingling among such criminals and celebrities who were often spotted together in nightclubs.

She explains that both groups are selfish, bored easily, and have lots of cash but no mercy. In today's instant social media world where a single pic of someone with the wrong sort of person can sometimes ruin careers, it's hard to imagine such social "friendships" (notwithstanding gangsta rap and that entire world).

Yet, back in the mid 20th century, the likes of Frank Sinatra not only hung out with powerful politicians like JFK, but he also has associations with known mobsters. 'Ol Blue Eyes himself also hung out across the pond in places run by Ronnie Kray and Reggie Kray, the aforementioned Brit gangsters, as did other celebs of the day.

Maybe it was exactly what Reggie's wife, Frances, explained in her narration. Or perhaps it was field research, if you will, for future acting roles. And maybe just maybe it was because such criminals sometimes possess such magnetic and charming personalities -- despite their otherwise abhorrent behavior -- that people are unconsciously drawn to them.

I have no idea how the real Krays were in person (outside of a few old clips of them being interviewed like celebrities on television, no less, about having just beaten a criminal case against them), but if they're anything like they're portrayed in "Legend," they were certainly magnetic if despicable blokes. And most of that can be attributed to the tremendous dual performance by Tom Hardy who plays both brothers, sometimes on screen at the same time.

Doing so, of course, is nothing new as Hollywood has long used tricks to have one performer play two characters who simultaneously occupy the screen and interact with one another. But Hardy's work takes that to another level. While the film itself might not ever reach the status of excellence -- it has a number of issues -- Hardy's dual take with the roles is nothing short of amazing.

I've seen plenty of characters on screen this year, but his portrayal of the Krays has stuck out in my head above most everyone else. Whenever one or both of the characters is on the screen, the film crackles with a magnetic draw of uncertainty about what might develop, especially considering Ronnie's mental instability and predilection for using violence. Granted, his brother isn't above doing the same when it comes to dealing with low level members of his gang (such as Sam Spruell as Jack McVitie) or fending off rival thugs. But that's tempered by his romance with Frances (Emily Browning) who acts as something of a calming influence on him.

Her presence, and that of David Thewlis playing the brother's business manager, if you will, starts to drive an increasing wedge between the brothers. That not only creates tension about what might transpire, but it also creates an interesting character study of sibling bonds, loyalty and such.

The problem lies in the script by writer/director Brian Helgeland (he of "L.A. Confidential" fame) who's based the pic on "The Profession of Violence" by John Pearson. While individual scenes often blaze with intensity and Hardy makes the entire 130-some minutes worth watching, the overall flow of the film feels somewhat stilted. It's as if the filmmaker had to truncate a lot of true-life material into his allotted running time and then try to fashion and wedge all of that into a Scorsese style crime drama.

None of which makes it bad, but something just feels off often enough that the overall experience doesn't match Hardy's performance(s). You keep hoping it will attain the brilliance and sleekness of something like "Goodfellas," but it never gets there, and some third act plot developments don't feel completely congruous with what preceded them.

But I still can't get Hardy's portrayal of the two fascinating but despicable characters out of my head. Unlike Sinatra, I don't think I ever would have enjoyed spending time with the real men, but they're nothing short of mesmerizing to watch up on the screen. Worth seeing if only for Hardy's award-worthy work, "Legend" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed November 13, 2015 / Posted November 25, 2015


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