The strengths and weaknesses of Legend can be summed up via two of its key scenes. The first comes about halfway through the film, when infamous London gangster Reggie Kray (played by Tom Hardy) does a flawless impersonation of his twin brother Ron. The thing is, Ron is also played by Tom Hardy in one of those Social Network Winklevae situations. It's just that Hardy's performance is so strong and each character is so defined, you genuinely think of the Krays as two entirely distinct humans played by two very different actors. It's a powerhouse performance showcasing Hardy's imposing abilities, both physically and dramatically.
The second scene comes a little earlier. The Krays are lured to a neutral pub under the auspices of negotiating a truce with their gangland rivals, only to discover themselves surrounded and grossly outnumbered. Where most would cower, the Krays respond with a mix of nonchalance and outrage: Reggie pulls himself a beer while Ron storms out, complaining of a half-arsed gunfight without any guns. Seconds later, of course, he returns unseen and together with his brother lays waste to the entire group of thugs.
The problem with this second scene (and, in turn, much of the film), is that it’s terrifically entertaining. The music, dialogue, performance and direction all play it light and whimsical — even flippant — despite its confronting savagery (the Krays employ a brutal combination of hammers and brass knuckles). Under certain circumstances, the juxtaposition of violence and comedy in film is defensible, even appropriate, so long as the genre fits (think Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or Pulp Fiction). Here, though, it’s wildly misplaced. Yes, it successfully conveys the Krays’ character and composure, but this isn’t fiction. The Krays brutalised and murdered their way to the top in real life, and the duty of a biopic is to tell a story as it was, not to glorify it as some might have wanted it to be.
And that, in short, is Legend: a film defined by its spectacular performances and misfiring direction. Alongside Hardy, the supporting cast of Emily Browning, David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston does a decent job despite the middling script, but the overall feeling is one of dullness and disappointment.