By: Samar Khan
There are two types of actors in this world: the 1% that can singlehandedly carry even a terribly written film to a higher level and the 99% that deliver more misses than they do hits. Everyone’s favourite forger (get it? Inception?), Tom Hardy, falls into the former camp and despite a string of great films over the last few years, is saddled with a script that is unsuitable for his star power.
He stars in this remarkably average tale of the Kray twins and their goal to establish themselves in the London underworld scene in the 1960s. To call the film average would be an understatement; if any lesser actor had been cast in the lead role, they would have been unable to salvage Brian Helgeland’s tale the way Hardy managed to.
Reginald and Ronald Kray were two actual brothers that decided to terrorise London in the 1960’s as a means of getting their name out there. In a dual role, Hardy plays both the suave and exceedingly charming Reggie as well as the completely insane (to put it kindly) schizophrenic, Ronnie. The film centers around Reggie getting his brother out of a mental institution by pressurizing the board to release him by falsifying his mental certification, and their subsequent racketeering and other cliché underworld jobs such as running nightclubs and killing people. It’s established early on that Ronald is a homosexual, in his own terms, and that gives way to some hilarious escapades and characters associated with his character. It speaks to Hardy’s abilities that he manages to portray both characters (extremely different in nearly every way with the obvious exception of their looks) and bring their extreme actions to life. It’s easy to see why he has garnered considerable Oscar buzz for his performance, as it stands as one of the better acting performances by a male in a leading role in 2015.
The supporting cast is pretty excellent throughout, making one wonder how a film that received consistently excellent performances from almost everyone involved could be so… average. Taron Egerton, Eggsy of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame, is fantastic as the boyfriend and instigator of Hardy’s Ronald. The two have a remarkable chemistry on screen and it is exciting to witness Egerton continue to own the roles he has been given in the past year. Christopher Eccleston plays Nipper Read, a constable intent on putting the Krays behind bars regardless of the pressure he receives from his superiors; despite the film containing a central subplot of him pursuing the Krays, he is remarkably underused and sporadically popped up, a notable flaw in a film full of them. Emily Browning plays Frances Shea, the love interest of Hardy’s Reginald character and she suffers from the exact opposite fate of Eccleston; she receives far too much screen time and despite being a competent actress, her arc drags the story down and away from the much more interesting sibling dynamic that should have been explored in greater depth. No one else on the cast will raise eyebrows, save for Paul Bettany in a fantastic cameo as Charlie Richardson, a rival of the Krays. Despite receiving a total screen time of less than 10 minutes, his character is a delight with a courtroom torture scene which is somehow made hilarious rather than horrifying due to the charm of his character. Alas, he suffers a fate worse than Eccleston’s character and that concerns the bizarre decision to provide his character but a mere cameo.
The actual direction of the film left a lot to be desired. It’s clear that Helgeland was hoping to ape the style of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas but his lack of experience that Scorsese has in spades is on full display. Most notable was an early scene within a Kray nightclub where Hardy’s Reginald brings Browning’s Frances and it’s clear that he tries to emulate Scorsese’s iconic Copacabana tracking shot from Goodfellas, complete with an old school singer on stage; the choreography pales in comparison to Scorsese’s iconic shot and, in a hilarious summation of the quality of the scene, the end of the shot has the singer’s music replaced by the film’s soundtrack. It was jarring and spoke to the lack of experience Helgeland has in these types of films. For as excellent as Hardy was in portraying the twins (and he was excellent), Helgeland’s insistence on finding ways to situate both versions of his character next to one another throughout the film exposed the film’s spotty CGI; far too often, it was painfully clear that the scene was edited and lacked that immersive nature that makes it feel as if the actor is actually playing opposite himself.
Helgeland was also in charge of the writing of the film and it continued on with the theme of mediocrity that his directing established. His writing of the Frances character was unbelievably dull, with the decision to make her a narrator having little to no effect on the events on screen. In fact, there was quite literally no payoff to having Browning’s character provide the narration; it adds nothing to the story and ends in the most anticlimactic of ways. For all of the flack Christopher Nolan receives in his writing of female characters within his films, at least, he has managed to avoid his characters having zero depth at all. Browning puts forth an admirable effort in playing Frances but is saddled with the writing that gave her a character with nothing to do but serve as a whining malcontent to the “badass” Reginald, her efforts are wasted. The rest of the story was decidedly average as well, with the segments not focusing on Reginald and Frances instead turning to the respective Kray brothers finding ways to get themselves into trouble, culminating in fateful prison sentences.
Not everything about the film was as below-average, of course. The soundtrack was a run-of-the-mill 60’s style film score, nothing revolutionary but complemented the average nature of the film by being perfectly competent. The cinematography was at times absolutely gorgeous when Helgeland wasn’t focusing on shoehorning both Hardy’s into one shot side-by-side. Rather, the sound and the visuals can best be described as apt for the film itself; not great but not awful either. In the immortal words of Goldilocks, they were “just right.”
Coming off the exceptional Mad Max, which was a film that was excellent even without accounting for the talent Hardy brings forth, one expected something special in a film that would be carried by the Brit himself. Due to the poor direction that was compounded by a poorly written story devoid of much depth, Hardy’s magnificent efforts are wasted in what is easily one of the year’s biggest disappointments.
After careful consideration, the Film Lawyers have decided to grace Legend with a grade of D (5/10).