Tom Hardy can act the hell out of any role, from subtle to blow-the-roof-off. In Legend, Hardy gets to do both, and all stops in between. It helps that he’s playing identical twins. And what twins. Ronald and Reginald Kray were the gangster lords of London during the 1960s. Reggie, ever the smooth operator, was cool enough to temporarily hide his cruel streak from Frances (Emily Browning), the girl he woos like Romeo courting his Juliet on her balcony.
Writer-director Brian Helgeland uses Frances to narrate the film, a device that fails to pay off, since even a voice-over can’t make sense of Ronnie. The gay Kray is indisputably cray-cray, a monster given to sadistic violence and orgies involving Lord Boothby (John Sessions) and Teddy Smith (a terrific Taron Egerton). Of course, Ronnie loves his mum (Jane Wood). But his outbursts with an American Mafioso (Chazz Palminteri) drive Reggie bonkers. At one point, the brothers punch each other out.
It sounds silly, and often it is. Peter Medak’s 1990 film The Krays, starring Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet, had more narrative force. Helgeland’s script is hit-and-miss, not on the Oscar-winning level of his L.A. Confidential. Still, Hardy is a show all by himself, an actor flying without a net and having a ball. You will too.