Tom Hardy’s Legend Continues to Grow

Director: BRIAN HELGELAND/2015

Tom Hardy may be the most versatile actor working today that is not named Daniel Day Lewis. Even if he has not been around long enough to earn that comparison possibly, it doesn’t mean that based on his current trajectory that this comparison is by any means a stretch.

From BronsonInceptionLawlessWarriorThe Dark Knight RisesLockeTinker Tailor Soldier SpyMad Max: Fury RoadChild 44, and now Legend, Hardy is a chameleon unequaled with his current contemporaries.  With Locke he single handily carried a 90 minute movie where he drives in the car the entire time taking phone calls.  His performance is so captivating as we watch him see his meticulously put together life unravel as each new phone call unveils another detail that chronicles his great fall. What other actor could compellingly captivate a story for 90 minutes when they are the only actor seen on screen.  His performance was in the nuance of his facial expressions and as with many of his roles, the emotion conveyed through his eyes.  As Bane, the villain who literally broke Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, much of Hardy’s face was covered with Bane’s breathing apparatus.  His whole performance was conveyed through his unique voice, and again, through his eyes.

Whatever the role, Hardy seems to upstage whoever he is acting with.  His characters are often violent men, no matter what polished exterior they seem to wear.  Legend may be the culmination of his previous character’s violent tendencies, where now the only actor he is able to upstage, is himself.

Legend chronicles the story of real-life gangsters, and twin brothers, Ronnie and Reggie Kray whose legend was known all over east London in the 1960’s. Reggie is more of the calm-headed businessman, while brother Ronnie is the psychotic schizophrenic brother known for his homosexuality at a time when that was not accepted…especially amongst the other gangsters looking for reasons to expand their influence. Ronnie’s violent streak only added to their reasons for hating the Kray brothers.

Tom Hardy plays both parts with equal complexity and nuance.  The scenes where he dialogues with himself are the most compelling.  There is even an extensive fight scene between the Kray brothers that makes you forget you are watching Tom Hardy in double-vision.  They are distinct characters that transcends the old-fashioned schtick of twins being played by the same actor as a cheesy gimmick such as Jean-Claude Van Damme in Double Impact, or Haley Mills in the original The Parent Trap.

Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) plays Frances Shea, Reggie’s love interest who sees him beyond his gangster persona and who longs for something better for him against the better wishes of her disapproving mother.

The film is directed by Brian Helgeland (42Payback) who is known for writing crime dramas such asL.A. Confidential, Mystic River, and even the Denzel Washington action-drama Man on Fire.  The feel of the film Helgeland delivers is disjointed at times with a fun upbeat musical score and soundtrack meant to place the film directly in the 1960’s when the events took place.

The direction, however, can’t seem to balance the more dark-natured humor of the Kray brothers with the ultra violent events surrounding them.  At times it works beautifully, while at others it slows the progression of the story and some of the emotional impact certain scenes could have, and probably should have had.

The narrative is based on the book by John Pearson, but is told from the vantage point of Frances Shea as she is introduced to and fully immersed into the world of the Kray Brothers through her romantic interest in Reggie.  Her character drives the tragedy that this story really is despite its hip trappings.  In the hands of any other cast, this film would really be quite pedestrian.

Thankfully the cast rescues the film from such a fate because the story is really quite compelling.  Scotland Yard, gangsters, the American mafia, turf war, and a dysfunctional family dynamics all contribute to a very interesting story, which makes the uneven direction so dissatisfying.  I will say it again ad naseum, that Tom Hardy’s dual-performance adds to his legend, and it elevates the film to be London’s answer to Robert DeNiro.  With another rumored Oscar-worthy performance coming from Hardy in December’s The Revenant, alongside Inception co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, Hardy’s trajectory is only going up.

The title of Legend is still a bit misleading for many who might believe this is a reboot of a 1985 fantasy film starring another Tom, this time Cruise, where a Tim Curry devilish villain named Darkness is after a unicorn.  Thankfully, it is much more compelling than that, and the performance of Hardy in both starring roles is well worth the viewing despite any glaring flaws in the direction.  With a Mad Max sequel being announced, and more roles finding him out, the legend of Tom Hardy will continue to grow.