Tom Hardy in the best thing about Brian Helgeland‘s gangster movie “Legend,” and the filmmaker has an ace in the hole: Hardy plays not one but two major roles in the film. The actor appears as both of the Kray brothers, the real-life British mobsters from the 1960s who are the subject of the new film from the writer-director who won an Oscar for writing “L.A. Confidential” and went on to direct “A Knight’s Tale” and “42.”
The film, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, features two starkly different performances by Hardy, who plays Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Some tech wizardly was required to have Hardy and Hardy interact so seamlessly, particularly in a rampaging fight scene, but the real marvel here is that he achieves performances so distinctive that they barely seem like the same actor.
Reggie is suave but vicious, Ronnie is oafish and psychopathic, and you can’t take your eyes off Hardy regardless of whom he’s playing. And that’s a good thing for “Legend,” because what surrounds Hardy on screen isn’t always as sure-handed or as provocative as its star.
Helgeland treats the material, rife with beatings and killings and causal brutality, by setting it to a nonstop score of ’60s soul and pop songs, and at times by getting downright cartoonish. You could argue that’s an apt way to treat gangsters who inspired a Monty Python routine, but it’s tonally jarring, considering the dark places the film goes.
This is a horror story of blood ties that happen to be drenched in the blood of others. And while Hardy himself can make Ronnie Kray look like a cartoon in one moment and then give him unexpected nuance in the next, the film itself doesn’t manage the trick quite so adeptly.
It also didn’t help that the acoustics in TIFF’s Princess of Wales Theatre, coupled with the thick East End accents, made large chunks of dialogue all but unintelligible.
Still, “Legend” has Tom Hardy. Twice. And that’s almost enough.