Tom Hardy works a double shift as both Kray brothers

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


Opens December 11
3 out of 5

Tom Hardy should be named movieland’s Man Of The Year. The actor was the unsung hero of Mad Max: Fury Road (because, really, it was Charlize Theron’s movie), co-stars in the phenomenal The Revenant (which is about to light up all the awards races) and showed up in the underrated British series Peaky Blinders (available on Netflix!) for good measure.

In what might as well be a victory lap for his banner year, Hardy shows off his acting chops in Legend, a stylized adaptation of the life and times of Ronald and Reggie Kray. Real-life kingpins of London’s criminal underworld during the ’60s, the Krays were as different as twins can be yet loyal to each other beyond reason. Hardy plays both of them, and seems to have a great time doing it.

Reggie Kray could pass as the “normal” twin. Outside of a very short fuse, Reggie is smart enough to build a sturdy criminal syndicate encompassing racketeering, arson, miscellaneous assaults and a few murders here and there. Secretly, Reggie hopes to clean up his act, become a respectable entrepreneur and marry the cute girl next door (Emily Browning, also the narrator).

Reggie’s unwavering loyalty toward his brother would be the cause of his undoing. We meet Ronnie fresh from a psychiatric prison and placed under Reggie’s care. Ronnie loves the idea of being a gangster, adores the thrill of violence, delights in causing fear in anyone crossing his path, and the idea of going legit doesn’t entice him as much as his brother.

Soon enough, Ronnie is hindering Reggie’s best laid plans (can you blame a sociopath for behaving like a psycho?). Not the coolest head in East London to begin with, Reg’s priorities tilt increasingly askew. Blood is thicker than water but the power of the bottom line cannot be understated.

As the title indicates, Legend is a glossier approach to the Krays’ story than real events warrant. In real life, Ronnie was slightly less of a hothead and Reggie could have written his own ticket to a psychiatric hospital. It’s not a straightforward biopic, but works as entertainment. Sharp dialogue, zippy editing and competent direction (Brian Helgeland, 42) make Legend a lot of fun except for, uhh, the unavoidably downbeat ending.

At no point does the audience get the impression both characters are played by the same actor, a testament to Tom Hardy’s skilful performance. His Ronnie is unhinged but stops short of becoming a caricature. In fact, Ronnie seems more soulful than the supposedly more sane Reggie. By comparison (and possibly by design), everyone else is more opaque, depriving the film of texture (or a hero for that matter — the main cop is duller than a doorknob).

One quibble: after watching Hardy in The Dark Knight Returns, The Revenant and here, I demand subtitles for all his future movies. I get that mumbling and assorted accents add to a character. But if the audience can’t understand him, what’s the point?