Once. Just once, I would love to see a British gangster film that doesn’t fall into every stereotype of the genre. Gone would be the diamond geezer lead who’s a cheeky chappy, hit with the ladies, only resorting to crime because he has to, and believe me, he’s got a heart of gold. Gone would be the vacuous wife of said diamond geezer who looks concernedly on, pulling faces at the violence, croaking ‘Maybe you should go straight’ before being slapped about by drunken lead with heart of gold. Gone would be secondary main character who’s a bit loopy. Too violent, too spontaneous, too unpredictable, and the audience looks on as heart of gold lead and concerned wife watch him nervously as he does something crazy. Legend, I assume, is a parody of itself. Every staple of every crime film set in Britain is here and unashamedly so.
Brian Helgeland seems to be trying to meld the comedy of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with the narration led force of Goodfellas. Basically, it’s American Hustle, only not as good. Helgeland gets everything wrong with the script, pacing and tone. There are strange moments of comedy with Ronnie, the psychopath of the piece, where any potential fear of him is totally drained. He says strange things in a strange way. Tom Hardy chose to make him into a characateur, a rare misstep from the talented actor.
It’s strange watching something like Legend, with no idea of what sort of film they were trying to make. There is no serious attempt into looking at what made the Krays into gangsters, no comment on the mental illness of Ronnie or his homosexuality. Their criminal empire seems to be made up of one club, and some kind of deal with Meyer Lansky, where they get paid, from what I can gather, by doing nothing. Nothing is ever explained and the film seems shallow as a result.
Legend aslo has an atrocious narrative device in the form of Reggie Kray’s wife’s narration. When she commits suicide, she makes a joke about how she’s a dead person narrating a film, as if pretending American Beauty never happened and this is totally original. The narration also adds absolutely nothing to the story, bar the occasional exposition to bludgeon some character into Emily Browning’s lifeless performance.
The most irritating trope that Legend uses though is having Reggie go off the rails after the death of his wife. Women in Hollywood are often treated as bastions of morality, totally devoid of any personality, who crusade for their husbands/boyfriends to become better people. After all, what purpose to women serve other than to make men better?
If you’re looking for a traditional British crime comedy caper, watch Snatch again. Legend is a horrible mix of stereotypes, clichés and dull characters. Even Tom Hardy isn’t as good as usual. Now, for the next British crime film, here’s an idea: Don’t treat the audience like idiots.