"Me and my brother, we're going to rule London."Dual performances are rare but inevitably becoming more popular with the advancement of CGI. It is rare however for your dual act to be the main focus of the film, in ‘The Social Network’ Armie Hammer was playing the Winklevoss twins but they were secondary characters within that story. So can this crime epic featuring Tom Hardy sustain itself as a character study of identical yet contrasting twins?
In the 1960s the East-End of London is rife with gamblers and gangsters, the most prominent and successful of which are the Kray twins. Ronnie (Tom Hardy) and Reggie (Tom Hardy) are at the peak of their success and the tale of their undoing is chronicled through the eyes of Reggie’s wife Frances (Emily Brown).
The story of how this film came about is that the director (Brian Helgeland) approached Tom Hardy to play the part of Reggie Kray, however Hardy was far more interested in a portrayal of Ronnie Kray… and you can probably see where it goes from there. There have been attempted biopics of these crime lords before, but it was a rather one dimensional affair, placing blame for their violent actions squarely on the parents. Writer Hegeland takes a different approach, choosing to use Reggie’s girlfriend, later wife, Frances as a window into their violent world. We see the initial appeal, the glamour and glitz and how one is taken away by the thrill of this environment. But then the scars start to show, the secrets spill out and monstrous truths come to light.
Though many will probably consider them as monsters, The Kray twins obviously considered themselves as local heroes and in some ways so does the film. I wouldn’t use the word glorifying, some may describe it that way, but for me it only exists on a surface level as like Frances we are treated to the allure only to be disturbed by what we find underneath. It seems reminiscent of other crime epics like ‘Scarface’ or some of the Scorsese mobster films like ‘Casino’ or, dare I say, ‘Goodfellas’. The movie is called ‘Legend’ and there is almost an air of folklore around the way the two strut around the streets of London as if they own it, as if they’re too big for reality, belonging to mythology. Even at the time they acted like high profile celebrities and ‘Legend’ makes no undercuts about that status. But then again it is also quick to point out how their luminary rank was ultimately their downfall and as I said earlier it is observing them through the eyes of Frances, and to her they are more than men, they are larger than life.
So, partly whimsical? Yes, and one has to wonder whether it is to idolise or dissect these twins. I can’t help but suspect it’s more of the former, and if there is any of the latter intended then it’s highly subliminal. But right at the centre of this saga is Tom Hardy’s immensely watchable performance. I can see why he was initially offered to part of Reggie as his suave and polished charisma gives him a natural and smooth appeal, with a cheek and boldness to accompany it. He radiates authority and respect, perhaps even a twinge of wanting a normal life, but knowing he’s too far gone to leave now. One could refer to him as a more violent and less sympathetic Del-boy.
In contrast though, I can see why Hardy himself preferred the part of Ronnie. This awkward figure clearly holds deep psychological problems and unlike his brother is feared but not respected. It’s not just the nasal tone, voice pitch and general attitude that separates one portrayal from another, every physical movement is altered slightly to be a distorted reflection of the other. When they interact it is seamless in terms of special effects and Hardy’s performance. When was the last time an actor fashioned harmony and dissimilarity with himself?
Though it treads a careful line between caricature and realism that will undoubtedly not be for everyone, it fits the tonal context and is backed up by the astonishing twofold performance from Hardy.