Legend has style, a dream-like 60’s gangsterland London with technicolour vibrancy, but the story lacks one solid direction and as a result, suffers.
Legend provides two stories. One is about the Cray twins building a crime empire in London, using a blend of charm and utter psychopathy. And the second story follows the tragic romance between Reggie Cray’s and a young east end girl. This sends Legend in two directions at the same time and ironically mimics the polarity between the two twins in the film.
The Crays’ rise to the top is chronicled well but the relationship between Reggie and is wife felt like unnecessary padding on the runtime. I can only assume that the idea to have the wife narrate the story was a cheap way to beef up their relationship through exposition. Their love story hits all the superficial beats: They have an argument in the streets about him leaving his gangster life, they get married, and she ends up hating her in-laws. And while she never ceases to talk about what life could be like outside his criminal domain—the type of life she supposedly wants for the two of them—she never attempts to show him.
The film would have done well to let the Romeo and Juliet tragedy fall to the wayside, or better yet, fade to the background like the Don’s wife (Diane Keaton), in The Godfather. Or to make a fresher comparison, Drive, a film that managed to pull off the style over substance, without getting confused in its direction. The romantic element in Drive is slowly developed through imagery of Gosling & Mulligan driving through the city, but the moment that she sees Gosling’s monstrous capabilities, she gets the fuck away from him.
Now, in fairness, there is a similar scene in Legend, where Reggie rapes his wife, and she immediately decides to leave him. But the problem is that we never see a truly brutal action committed by Reggie beforehand. He uses verbal threats, and gets in a few fist fights, but up to that point, Legend frames the less stable brother, Ronald, as the monster. Brutality is fine, but some build up is necessary. The audience needs to see the charming Reggie Cray commit a truly dirty deed, or two, before they’re hit with the fact he’s a rapist bastard. It was a jump in his character’s arch that I couldn’t make.
And the final reason Legend should have been stripped of its romantic element, is that the film pulls a cheap twist at the end, revealing that she’s been narrating the film from beyond the grave. Perhaps they thought this would add to the tragedy of the film, but it only adds to the stupidity. This means that his wife is a sad-sack-of-shit spirit lingering in the present day, telling the story of the time she knowingly married a criminal megalomaniac and then regretted it—awwww, so sad. If one is to narrate from the beyond, they better have a good reason, something that serves that story; otherwise it drips of “Aren’t I clever.” For instance: American Beauty had Spacey narrate from the beyond because it served to answer a question Spacey had been begging for the entirety of the film. In Legend, it just happens.
I don’t hate Legend, aesthetically it’s fantastic. But, the makers overcomplicated the project when they decided to jam a love story into a crime story. It’s not a shot at the makers either, not everyone can pull off Macbeth or Breaking Bad. So I’ll give credit where credit is due, Legend has style, but because it lacks a singular direction it comes off as remarkably average.