Film Reviews

LEGEND

By • Dec 29th, 2015 •

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Mafia…British style.

LEGEND director, Academy Award winner Brian Helgeland, must prostrate himself before the kings of the gangster film – Scorsese and Coppola. For they proudly proclaim ownership to “this thing of ours.” This isn’t provocation since LEGEND is well worth viewing and warrants award recognition for Tom Hardy and its cinematography.

Across the pond from Carlo Gambino and the five families of the American Mafia were identical twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, who became a wrecking force to all opposition as they staked their claim in London as a tag team of brute strength and vision who built up such a reputation that the Americans came with an offer of a partnership of sorts.

As the Krays attain power from rivals, it’s brutal but not quite as deadly as films depicting Italian-American gangsters during the same era. In London, gun shots don’t ring out as rapidly as in movies like THE GODFATHER. In England, guys take a lickin’ and may be bludgeoned and left as pulverized carcasses, not riddled with holes as they were in Brooklyn. However, when one of the Krays does pull out a gun, it captivates the London underworld.

The story is told from Reggie’s wife, Frances’ perspective. In a word, she is a bore. Reggie is a mix of the brash Jessie James and the debonair James Bond. Would either ever settle for a melancholy waif wife who waited at home? Devoid of interests and talent, she should have ventured forth taking up a cause…any cause…a useless cause such as saving kittens. Or, just do what all mafia wives do and go shopping. Unfortunately, the mafia marriage gives license to sorrow. Although a weak character, her presence is quite poignant.

With fact comes the artistic, fictional aspect of filmmaking. Filmmakers have long been accused of glamorizing and romanticizing the gangster genre. LEGEND is a gloss-coated tale of the terror twins who co-exist as yin and yang. The screenplay centers around the twins’ relationship but fails to add enough depth to their characters as we are left stranded without a full understanding of their upbringing other than suffering an illness to the brink of death. What possible moral malnutrition steered them to the heights of gangsterdom? For such flavorful characters who offered tabloid fodder and cinematic portrayals decades after their deaths, they are mere plastic printed reincarnations.

Reggie is less prone to violence with proven business acumen. Ronnie, the henchman, is the cause of quiver and shake to many. His instability gives tension to the brothers’ relationship, which eventually affects their business and personal lives. Unfortunately, Reggie’s downfall may have been avoided if his psychopathic, schizoid, brutal brother would have been left institutionalized and strapped to a gurney in an overdosed, medication-fueled coma.

While watching LEGEND I forgot one thing and remembered another. I forgot Tom Hardy portrayed both Reggie and Ronnie Kray. And numerous times I was reminded of GOODFELLAS.

The embattled brothers spar in a memorable tussle with great camera movement and choreography as it is Tom Hardy vs. Tom Hardy, who takes on double duty playing both brothers. Experience as the sole actor in LOCKE might have prepared him for this daunting task. Hardy is no stranger to the tough guy/gangster characters. His filmography includes the upcoming THE REVENANT as a self-serving despicable trapper, mobster Alfie Solomons in PEAKKY BLINDERS, a Chechyn mobster alongside James Gandolfini in THE DROP, criminal Charles Bronson in BRONSON, and Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

The LEGEND settings and characters are reminiscent of the Scorsese flick GOODFELLAS as comparisons arise between Reginald Kray and Ray Liotta’s character Henry Hill. Both men frequented nightclubs, raised a glass to celebrity acquaintances, and both netted dedicated wives with their bad boy demeanors and charismatic personas who eventually get caught in the volley of jail time and lament a fairytale marriage which was foolishly pursued by love’s blind eye and remiss of the criminal lifestyle.

Then there is Ronald Kray who much like Joe Pesci’s character Tommy DeVito – wild cards unable to be harnessed therefore raised concerns to interested parties for outright unacceptable behavior for men of violence. Both of these men were championed by their counterpart. Ronald is the greater evil of the two due to his serious lucid deficiency.

The glamorization of these real life men begins in casting. Henry Hill must have been flattered that he was portrayed by Ray Liotta. As for the Krays, take a look at the image of them taken by photographer David Bailey. They are menacing, and far from the GQ look of the movie poster.

From the onset, the heavily accented dialogue would have benefited from subtitles. Possibly Cockney, possibly Brummie, maybe both, maybe neither, I can’t discern. Thankfully, the dialogue became easier to understand. Reggie Kray speaks in a manner to attain the status of a cerebral criminal, whereas, Ronnie’s guttural meter is a reminder of simmering bi-polar stridulous outbursts. Francis described Ronnie as funny. His honesty towards his tabooed homosexuality takes on a comedic tone in is his abrupt revelations on the subject with a shock and awe that leaves people speechless for a moment as they gauge if he’s pulling their leg. The scene in which Chazz Palminteri is on a mission as an ambassador for the Americans leaves him initially dumbfounded. A fault of the screenplay is that it relies on Ronald’s comedic relief after several outbursts for no good reason. Do the writers assume that this is typical of schizophrenic behavior?

With a hint of bias, the truth remains that a finely tailored Italian suit and pinky ring handling an espresso trumps a pint-guzzling gangster any day. Still, LEGEND is an entertaining film undertaking the Krays story as bastions of the underworld to the bathos of prison walls.

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