by Jason Callen
Oh what to do with a film like Legend? On the one hand it’s a fairly derivative gangster film which, when you’re talking about an American director, means derivative of Martin Scorsese, regardless of the fact that this is a story about UK gangsters. Scorsese’s eleventh feature Goodfellas , his 3rd gangster film (or 3.5 if you count parts of Raging Bull), has left such an ineradicable mark on the American cinematic landscape that nearly every gangster film made after owes some sort of debt to it. In this case director Brian Helgeland uses the love story structure as well as some visual references, including a Steadicam entrance into to a club that follows the character in a continuous shot. I have to admit, I thought it took some serious grapes to mimic that shot in that way. So there’s that.
On the other hand you have two excellent performances by Tom Hardy as both Reggie and Ron Kray, both interesting and nuanced. It’s a testament to Hardy’s talent that he can continue to explore these character types and still manage to make them seem fresh and unique. Either one of these rolls would have been an accomplishment but couple them and consider those other brutes and villains that Hardy’s played and you begin to see his ability to make even the most horrific of characters somehow sympathetic. Unlike other actors who are known or have been known for playing bad guys, like say John Lithgow or Gary Oldman, Hardy’s bad guys never slip into caricature, even when, as in the case of Bronson, the real life inspiration was basically a caricature.
The film sports some fine supporting work as well. Emily Browning is good as Reggie’s love interest/wife but she still seems underutilized. I see great potential in her but no director has quite brought it out for me yet. Still, a solid performance. Christopher Eccleston, Colin Morgan, Tara Fitzgerald, and David Thewlis all show up and key scenes. Let’s be serious though, you’re here for Tom Hardy. Lots and lots of Tom Hardy, and you get it. He’s so good that you basically forget you’ve seen this film a dozen times before. The rise, finding love, finding success, the tension, the fall, it’s all old hat but done with enough style from Helgeland and skill by Hardy that you forgive it its sameness. Is it a masterpiece? Not even close. Hardy is just too good and too interesting to not recommend the film, just don’t expect the genre to be redefined or anything. For a richer experience I would suggest watching this film after Peter Mendak’s 1990 film The Krays, which follows their youth and ends just as they are becoming true gangsters, pretty much where Legend begins. It’s a different experience with a much more British sensibility and well worth the time.
Sometimes watching one of the best actors of their generation is enough a draw for a film. This is one of those times. Tom Hardy fans rejoice. Fans of gangster films, mildly rejoice. Everyone else, well you’re probably not reading this anyway.