BOTH THE best and the worst thing about the Savannah Film Festival is that it comes so late in the festival circuit.
It’s great because without so much pressure on them, the special guests and filmmakers, etc., can be very relaxed while they’re here, and are able to let their hair down and be more approachable. This is especially important for SCAD’s educational mission with the Festival.
It’s not so good because most of the movies that show here have already been reviewed, and it’s hard to say anything original about them.
My review of Legend is therefore not a huge departure from what you might have already read. The central takeaways are:
1) Tom Hardy is simply amazing in his dual role as both identical Kray twins, lords of the East London underground in the post-war years through the 1960s. I went to the film not only because I’m a sucker for any movie about the notorious Kray brothers, but because Hardy’s performance has been so heavily hyped – in this case rightly and deservedly so.
2) The voiceover by Emily Browning – as Reggie Kray’s wife Frances – is stilted and obviously used mostly to paper over sweeping plot holes. Browning is as boring in her spoken narration as she is vibrant and sensitive in her actual on-screen portrayal, and the qualitative difference in her contributions is a bit jarring.
3) The tone of the movie – clearly romanticizing the Krays and often milking extended laughs from their casual psychopathic violence – might prove problematic to some (though the audience at the Trustees was very appreciative).
All that said, Legend, based on John Pearson’s book The Profession of Violence, is a great achievement. While the Krays’ bullying violence is both reveled in and underanalyzed, and the undeniable yet ultimately tragic love story between Reggie and Frances is compelling, the movie’s focus is on the deep, unbreakable bond between the twins themselves.
And it’s on this level that the film works best.
At no point do the film’s special effects, allowing Tom Hardy to play both roles, interfere. Very quickly, within the first minute or two, you become completely immune to Hardy being on screen as two people at the same time.
This is testament not only to the technical mastery of the filmmaking but in Hardy’s ability to differentiate between the two brothers in not only mannerism and voice inflection, but in overall demeanor.
Reggie is the suave, handsome Alpha of the duo, the acknowledged leader of the family “business.” Brother Ronnie is openly gay in a time when that is unheard of, protected from the prevalent homophobia of the time through his hair-trigger willingness to use savage violence on a millisecond’s notice.
Ronnie is also clearly mentally troubled, a fact which tempers Reggie’s frequent extreme frustration with his charismatic yet mercurial brother. (Indeed, the real-life Ron died while serving time in a high-security mental health facility, what used to be called a prison for the criminally insane.)
As a connoisseur of accents, I delighted in Hardy’s subtle and authentic mastery of the East End/Cockney accent(s) of both brothers.
That said, the sound design in the film leaves something to be desired, and the sound isn’t as crisp as it needs to be, both to overcome the thickness of the accents and Hardy’s own notorious propensity to mumble.
The brief but impactful turn of Chazz Palminteri as a visiting American Mafioso making Reggie an offer he very nearly can't refuse is a particularly nice touch, making palpable the film's aspirations to be a definitive British version of the classic American mob movie.