Set in London during the 1960's, Legend tells the story of gangster twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray from the viewpoint of Frances Shea, Reggie's girlfriend and later wife. Already self made men by the time the film starts, Legend is mainly concerned with Reggie's relationships with both Frances and Ronnie, but also tries to take a look at the investigation into the Kray's by Scotland Yard and the events that led to the twins downfall.
It is the 'catch all' approach that Legend takes towards the lives of the Kray twins that is it's biggest flaw. In some ways I admire the restraint shown by not attempting to deal with the 'origin story' of the Kray's, but even without that Legend has too many balls in the air. It often feels unfocused and directionless thanks to this, particularly whenever Scotland Yard's investigation into the Kray twins rears it's head - this could have been a really interesting part of the film (and the various trailers for Legend try to make it look as though it will take up a significant portion of the films running time), but Legend spends so little time attempting to actually do anything with the character of Detective Read and his investigation that I'm amazed he wasn't cut from the film completely - a good hour or so must go by between his introduction and his next appearance.
This problem of trying to fit too many things into one film also carries over into other areas, such as the films inability to commit to a tone. The first half of Legend has real personality, and it is in this half that all of the films best scenes come, from the very opening that sees Reggie offer the police that are meant to be tailing him a cup of tea (a scene full of character and personality), to the barroom brawl that showcases just how dangerous the Kray's really are - while at the same time ensuring that you are still completely on their side. But at around the half way mark, Legend trades the sense of originality that the opening half had earned for a much more standard biopic, choosing the tell 'the story' instead - the only problem being that 'the story' isn't as interesting as the opening half is.
A smarter director would have used each of the films clear halves to focus on a different brother (the wilder opening from the perspective of the more unstable and unpredictable Ronnie and the more serious half from the more serious Reggie), but instead both halves are narrated by Frances, who is redundant as a viewpoint into this world and incredibly dull as a character despite the best efforts of Emily Browning. It almost feels as if Legend would have been better if it had of only used the Kray twins as it's initial inspiration rather than actually trying to tell their story - both Ronnie and Reggie are interesting enough characters to do a lot more with, and I'd much prefer an entertaining film to an accurate one, especially when Tom Hardy is playing both the lead roles.
And Hardy is, as always, great in Legend. He makes sure that Ronnie and Reggie are completely different characters with unique personalities and mannerisms, but more importantly he manages to make them feel like people that existed in the same room at the same time, a feat all the more impressive when they interact with one another directly. There are very, very few moments in Legend where you can tell that one of the Kray twins has been added in digitally, and although this does have a fair bit to do with smart shot composition and good CGI it would be foolish to act as if Hardy isn't the one selling the scene to the audience.
But ultimately, even Hardy can't elevate Legend beyond merely 'good enough', a film that is too unstructured to even commit to a single story, never mind to actually tell it effectively, and almost entirely wastes what should have been a great supporting cast (including David Thlewis, Taron Egerton and Christopher Eccleston). Director Brian Helgeland (who also wrote Legend) simply doesn't quite have the talent (or more likely, the experience) needed to tackle his admittedly ambitious script, and the result is a film that despite it's flashes of greatness is, on the whole, really nothing special. Legend isn't a bad film as such, but it fails to reach it's potential, and that can easily be more frustrating.