Legend is robust, underappreciated genre entertainment, boasting two explosive performances from Tom Hardy as the infamous Kray brothers, twin gangsters who ran the show in swinging-60’s East London. Hardy is simply an actor on fire, repeatedly making it clear in film after film that he is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Written with sass and directed with punchy style by Brian Helgeland, the film was all but buried by Universal in the United States. The studio must’ve realized at the last minute that, sadly, Hardy’s name means nothing above the title on a poster or in trailers as regular Joe moviegoers haven’t a clue as to who he is. The decidedly British tone and setting might have represented a further challenge to audiences looking for a more formal gangster film. But my question will always be, in the case of this film and many others – why BOTHER making the film in the first place if you have no intention of properly releasing it? Studio execs presumably read the script and approved the casting decisions, so why is it some sort of big shocker that the end results are exactly what should have been expected?
The film doesn’t break any new ground for the milieu, but at the same time, it’s mighty entertaining at almost every turn, with the dual performances from Hardy as Ronnie and Reggie Kray absolutely blazing up the screen with full-force intensity. Tapping into his innermost Bronson at times and letting it rip with extreme visceral force, he was able to convey two very different characters, sometimes within the same scene thanks to seamless visual effects work, while showcasing an overall level of cinematic ferocity that is getting increasingly harder for any other actor to match. Emily Browning is sexy as hell as the object of desire, looking smashing in glitzy period-authentic clothing, with some of the best make-up work I’ve seen in recent films.
The film is vulgar, violent, and cheerfully bloody, with all sorts of stabbings and throat-slicing and shootings to satiate the gore hounds, with Helgeland comfortably playing in the tough-guy cinematic arena that clearly comes natural to him (other potent screenplay credits include Mystic River, LA Confidential, and Man on Fire, while he’s probably best known for directing the neo-noir Payback with Mel Gibson). A snappy soundtrack and vibrant cinematography by Dick Pope also spruce up the proceedings, while familiar faces such as Chazz Palminteri, Paul Bettany, Sam Spruell, David Thewlis, Taron Egerton, and Christopher Eccleston provide solid supporting turns. The film grossed $42 million worldwide, with just $2 million of that total coming from U.S. box office receipts. Insane to ponder.