The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



The last time we got a movie about the Kray brothers, it starred the bass player and the guitarist from '80s New Wave band Spandau Ballet. While Peter Medak's 1990 drama The Krays may have garnered good reviews, it didn't exactly set the world on fire. Brian Helgeland's Legend isn't likely to either, but it does cast one actor the inimitable Tom Hardy in both lead roles, which automatically gives it a leg up. With a wild unpredictability not unlike what the young Jack Nicholson had, Hardy is a perfect choice to play two of England's most notorious gangsters. For whatever the film's shortcomings, he makes it worth seeing.

Ronnie and Reggie Kray are identical twins, yet have very different personality types. The former is a sophisticate, or at least he tries to be. He runs a posh nightclub and carries himself in a dapper manner, resorting to violence only when no one is around to see it. The latter is a full-fledged psychopath, prone to uncontrolled fits of rage. Legend follows their ascent through London's underworld, as they deal with a rival criminal organization and even make a tenuous deal with an associate of American mobster Meyer Lansky. Ronnie also romances Frances (Emily Browning), the sister of one of his henchmen. She's initially attracted to his air of danger, but comes to resent the fact that he's more committed to being a gangster than he is to her.

Legend lacks a strong story arc, which is its biggest flaw. There's no central drama the brothers are up against. Even the cop (Christopher Eccleston) relentlessly pursuing them is mostly pushed into the background. Instead, the movie plays as more of an accounting of different things the Krays got wrapped up in. Consequently, there are moments of drama throughout the film, yet no central drama that pulls them all together. Legend is never dull, it just doesn't take us where the greatest mob movies have taken us. The movie lacks the nail-biting urgency that, for example, Goodfellas had in spades.

What it does have is Tom Hardy...and Tom Hardy. The actor is excellent in both roles, giving each Kray brother a distinct personality. This does not feel like a stunt where one performer does double duty. Hardy breathes a full amount of life into each brother. Seamless special effects combine his twin performances. If the technique didn't work, the whole film would fall apart, but it truly does feel like we're watching two separate people. Nothing about it is gimmicky. Hardy is especially impressive as Ronnie, conveying how the character weaves effortlessly between suaveness and brutality, depending on the situation. In many respects, Ronnie is scarier than Reggie because he's the more hard to pinpoint of the two.

Emily Browning could have gotten lost amid the Hardys, but to her credit, she turns in bold supporting work. Legend is told through Frances' eyes, and she provides occasional narration. Browning (Sucker Punch) gives the movie some much-needed emotional grounding, playing a character who believes in love, thinks she can make her man better through the offering of that love, then tragically realizes that his real passion is the power that comes from being a gangster. A promising actress for several years now, Browning deserves more recognition. Hopefully, this movie will give it to her.

Legend may not be top-tier gangster cinema. That's alright. It works as a character study of two different siblings who gained influence by feeding off each other, and off their shared desire for recognition. It even works as a doomed love story. There's probably a better film to be made about the Krays, but Legend has two Tom Hardys and an Emily Browning doing exemplary work. In this case, that's enough.

( out of four)

Legend is rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual and drug material. The running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.

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