Tom Hardy manages the brilliant trick of playing two physically, emotionally and intellectually distinct mobster brothers in “Legend,” a new film about Britain’s Swinging ’60s and the thugs who bloodied them up. They are played in different shades of brutality, and Hardy never lets us see them as one actor portraying two men, even if the effects occasionally give away the game.
It’s another movie about The Krays, the dapper, businesslike and mercurial Reggie and his psychotic and unfiltered brother Ronald.
Reggie was lean and clean, a sharp dresser you didn’t want to cross. Ever.
Ronnie was thicker featured (dental appliances help), wore glasses, might drop a bit of literature or mythology into a conversation. Before he’d flip out and toss a tantrum, commit assault or stab or shoot you.
Reggie was a lady killer. Not literally. Perhaps that’s what Frances Shea (Emily Browning, a pixie-cut/mini-skirted embodiment of Mod London) saw in him. She narrates this story of gambling, gang-wars and extortion.
Ex-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston is the hapless cop, always tailing the lads as they slip into their gigantic 1960s American cars (Lincoln Continental, Ford Galaxy 500) on trips to their various “legitimate businesses.”
Ronnie is “homosexual,” and blunt about it. Freshly out of prison when we meet him, he keeps pretty boys with him. But he’s off his meds, and he needs his meds to stay sane. Without them, his demons get the better of him.
David Thewlis plays their manager and “fixer,” Chazz Palminteri shows up as an American mob lieutenant making business arrangements with these up-and-comers.
Writer-director Brian Helgeland (“42,” and he scripted “Mystic River”) delivers a handsomely-mounted mob period piece, conventionally structured with moments of flash. He got Paul Bettany (hilariously psychotic) to play the Krays’ London mob rival, and stages a somewhat bemused “gang war” that’s all fun and games, until Ron breaks the hammers out — literally. Ears are bitten off and heads are butted. These guys were savage toughs, no matter how much polish they tried to present.
Browning never quite gives us a clue about what made Frances look the other way at the evidence of she was dating a brutish gangster. There’s no morality here, but where’s the real allure? Her family was tied to the Krays, no matter how much her scolding mother (Tara Fitzgerald) protested.
It overstays the welcome its Point A to Point B narrative can support. But it’s a more ambitious film than the earlier, grittier “The Krays,” with more of a sense of class consciousness (the lads mingled with nobility, which liked hobnobbing with the mob) and features the odd poetic flourish in the script.
As in the line their “fixer” affixes to their name, cementing the legend of Kray.
“There’s an inherent threat in that one commanding syllable.”
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual and drug material
Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eggleston
Credits: Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, based on the John Pearson book. A Universal release.
Running time: 2:11