Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany
Screenwriter turned director, Brian Helgeland’s penchant for brutal noir (Payback, L.A Confidential, Man On Fire) gels easily with the British gangster genre’s droll humour and casual violence.
This project sees him in the director’s chair charting the tale of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the twin gangster brothers of sixties East End London. Reggie (Tom Hardy) is the charming rogue and club-owner criminal. Ronnie (also Tom Hardy) is a paranoid schizophrenic, certified insane until Reggie blackmails a shrink and orchestrates his release from an institution. Out in the world, Ronnie is a hair trigger; he’s violent, brutal, openly gay in a time of repression, and willing to use its shock value to provoke violence. The brothers form an antagonistic partnership with club owner, Leslie Payne (David Thewlis), who facilitates an alliance with US Mafioso, Angelo Bruno (Chazz Palminteri). Around the same time, Reggie meets the meek and mild Francis Shea (Emily Browning) and falls in love. All the while Ronnie, a crazed and manic time bomb, wants to go to war with the world, permeating the plot with the stench of inevitability.
There have been Kray cinematic treatments before (notably with Spandau Ballet’s Gary and Martin Kemp), but this take on the tale lulls the uninitiated into its gloss and period excess until it’s interspersed with horrifically jarring violence, though clearly that’s the point that Helgeland is trying to make. Hardy is a true movie star, and here he is astonishingly good in one of the best depictions seen of one actor playing twins on-screen, rivalling even that of Jeremy Irons in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers. It’s undermined by an ill-fitting score and a puzzlingly structured third act, but there’s real pleasure in Hardy’s bold, intense, and utterly compelling lead performance.