I went into Legend hoping to see a movie about Tom Hardy and his psychotic, gay twin. Instead I saw a movie where Tom Hardy falls in love with a porcelain doll, and happens to have a crazy brother who shows up every once in a while. This puts it high on the list of all-time movie disappointments. I really, really wanted this to be good.
Legend is narrated by Frances Shea, played by Emily Browning, love interest of Reggie Kray, the non-crazy half of the real-life Cockney gangster Kray twins both played by Tom Hardy (even just re-reading that, I’m mystified as to how this isn’t the greatest film ever made). I’m not sure why this story is being narrated by this woman, or why writer/director Brian Helgeland seems to think that Frances and Reggie’s relationship is more interesting than Reggie’s brother, Ronnie Kray, a certifiably insane, insecure, violent, child-like-yet-strangely articulate gangster who is charmingly open about his homosexuality. “Come to Philadelphia, we’ll get you a nice Italian girl,” a Meyer Lansky representative played by Chazz Palmintieri says to Ronnie during a sitdown.
“Actually, I prefer boys,” Ronnie says.
“Yeah, I like Italian boys, sometimes Greek ones, I met a little Sicilian I had folded into a pretzel once…”
At which point Palmintieri’s character, presumably an incredibly homophobic Italian gangster, is momentarily taken aback, but irrepressibly charmed by Ronnie’s openness. “It takes a lot of balls to admit that,” he says, toasting the moment. “Cheers to this big stugatz banging dudes, salud!”
Everything else sort of fades away when Ronnie’s around, and yet the movie inexplicably focuses instead on Reggie, a fairly run-of-the-mill gangster with a heart of gold, and his romance with Frances- a plucky nice girl who sees the good in Reggie and tries to get him to go straight. Emily Browning is a fine actress (and if she and Tom Hardy had a child in real life, I imagine it’d come out with a pair of perfect lips the size of a Buick), but there’s not a single compelling thing about this character.
“Reggie, stop doing crime!”
“Oi, oy wiw, Frances, ‘cos oy love you, don’t oy.”
(voiceover) Reggie stopped doing crimes for 10 minutes, and then his brother screwed up everything.
It was this, over and over and over again. Unlike Ronnie, bringing a donkey wearing a tuxedo to the club and doing an impromptu stand-up set about how his customers are c*nts, none of Reggie and Frances’s interactions are particularly interesting. I was willing to put up with their scenes as a palate cleanser in between Ronnie killing people with a claw hammer in the early going, but two hours into the film, when it’s really expecting us to be invested in Reggie trying to go straight, and Frances being upset that Reggie won’t go straight, and Frances’s mom disapproving of Reggie not going straight, I was just praying for it to end. Legend feels like a crazy story being told by someone who has no idea what’s interesting about it.
In fairness, I probably would’ve liked it a little better if I’d been able to understand more than 60% of the dialogue. That gay sex conversation I paraphrased above seemed pretty funny, but in the moment, Ronnie’s bit actually sounded like “eh oy loikeoajgi jkb Italian boyz erm fermringrung Greek ones inwinderimuerung pretzew one toime n awdat nerminauguglkjlasdfuoi.”
You might assume that this was another Bane situation, and Ronnie is certainly the most difficult to understand, but it was a problem understanding every character, from opening credits to closing. I saw Legend at the Princess of Wales Theater in Toronto, where The Martian’s dialogue also sounded muffled the day before, and which is apparently notorious for bad sound. Legend was the worst yet, and went a long way towards ruining the experience. I would’ve asked for my money back if I’d paid.
Still, a few more laughs and intelligible dialogue probably couldn’t have saved 131-minutes of Brian Helgeland not really knowing what he was making a movie about. Dude shoots a nice montage, but Legend is aimless and it eventually gets dull. It’s always a bad sign when you spend the last 20 minutes of a movie wondering what the epilogue text is going to say.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.