Tom Hardy fans enjoy a double serving in “Legend,” in which he plays twin gangster brothers in 1960s London. Based on the true story of Ronnie and Reggie Kray and their ascent to gangland power, Hardy’s dual performances make this overlong film worth watching.
The gimmick of double Hardy barely keeps the plot trickling along at times, and elements such as his bitter wife’s voiceover or the feeble attempts of a gangster to go straight are derivative of superior films. But one or both of the Hardy characters snap your attention back at even the film’s weakest moments.
Hardy’s good looks have been literally muzzled in some of his most famous roles, like Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” and Max in “Mad Max: Thunder Road,” but as Reggie Kray he gets to be the dashing leading man. Reggie is the brains of the operation, and he revels in the nightlife he enjoys at his own bar and casino.
As schizophrenic, bespectacled Ronnie Kray, Hardy portrays the weird supporting guy, and the distinct physicality he gives the men is impressive. Ronnie is the proverbial loose cannon in their crime syndicate, but no matter how he acts, Ronnie won’t abandon Reggie. Even when they are beating up one another, it’s with love. It’s like “The Parent Trap” except instead of camp pranks, people are beaten with hammers.
The story concerns … well, that’s the problem. The story just isn’t very interesting. The brothers build their crime empire, pull various stints in prison, give and receive threats.
Great supporting actors such as Chazz Palminteri, Paul Bettany and David Thewlis are perfectly good, but the whole gangster trope has gotten a great deal of exposure, and this tale doesn’t bring anything new to it. Tonally, it should have either been much funnier, or completely serious. And most of all, it should have been much shorter.
Again, it is the characters Hardy creates, rather than the plotlines, that are really interesting. Reggie Kray courts and marries a fragile waif played by Emily Browning, and she temporarily brings out his sensitive side. One of the things that makes the Ronnie Kray character noteworthy is his open attitude toward his homosexuality. Some of his best scenes involve his matter-of-fact statement of his preference for men; his own toughness, as well as his lack of shame about the fact, disarm everyone he tells.
Tom Hardy is a perfectly valid reason to see any movie, and “Legend” does not disappoint in that area. As a double vehicle for a fantastic actor, it is worth watching. With support from some other great actors, he pulls real moments from a story that, while real, doesn’t ring particularly true. The London period setting is wonderful to look at, but tired gangster clichés make this lengthy movie a well-acted retread of superior versions of itself.