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Legend (2015)

Originally written December, 2015

There’s a funny but true story floating around the internet (as stories are wont to do) about the above poster for this film. Benjamin Lee, film critic for The Guardian, gave this film a two star review, and he didn’t mean it ironically. The clever marketing department then sandwiched his rating between the heads of film stars Tom Hardy (as Reggie Kray) and Tom Hardy (as Ronnie Kray), who are surrounded on all other sides by 4-star reviews. It’s visual sleight of hand designed to make you assume that the high-minded folks who run The Guardian thought the film was better than they actually did. And it’s a clever way to make audiences think the film is better than it is.

After viewing the film, I’m convinced that the marketing department must have played a role in production as well. Someone had to come up with the title, after all. The title “Legend” makes it seem as if you’re about to watch something truly epic. Instead what you get is a below-average faux-gangster picture in which the only character who could even be called moderately interesting is a by-the-book paranoid schizophrenic whose dialogue is often incomprehensible. The singular rather than plural title seems to indicate that the filmmakers/marketing team knew this going in. Needless to say, there’s nothing remotely legendary about what they have to show you.

The first sign of impending mediocrity is the opening voiceover. It immediately cheapens the film, like a plain woman doused in cheap perfume. It’s distracting enough to make you blind to any positive qualities that you might have otherwise noticed. Worse still, the actress in question is Emily Browning, who spends the entire film still looking as if she just got “sucker punched.” They even found a way to work her perpetual state of doe-eyed emptiness into the script. The marketing department’s clever trailer makes it seem as if this movie will ultimately be the tale of a conflict between two brothers. Instead it’s a maudlin story of one woman’s quiet journey into an inevitable refrigerator. It’s also a total waste of Christopher Eccleston.

If the movie had given us a look at how a legend is made and focused on the journey of the Kray brothers from wherever they started to the top, it would have been a much more entertaining and possibly even enriching experience. There’s one promising scene in which a rival gang from South London holds a mock court before torturing a Kray family associate. (The Kray brothers are from East London. For those of you, like me, who are not from London and have never even set foot in London, some kind of explanation about who these people are and why that matters — maybe even a “Game of Thrones”-style interactive map? — would have been really helpful, and potentially enriching.) The rival gang is in and out of the movie faster than you can say “Wait, what?” and they take a lot of the dramatic tension with them when they go. The last half of the movie really drags, to the point where I started thinking about all the work I had to do and missed something in the plot. One of the Tom Hardys was beating sad, suicidal Emily Browning in bathroom. But why? What had she done to deserve that? I actually leaned over to whisper the question to my friend, but he didn’t know either, and he was ostensibly paying attention.

This is one of those cases in life where the truth is probably a lot more entertaining than fiction. If you want to learn about the Kray brothers, go read their Wikipedia page. If you want to experience double doses of Tom Hardy — one performance where he’s charming and lethal, and another where he’s crazy and incomprehensible — then treat yourself to a Christopher Nolan double feature, and re-watch Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. If you want Legend to truly entertain you, then go back and watch the trailer on You Tube. Those marketing guys really know what they’re doing.


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