The big breakthrough in Legend, the latest well-crafted studio throwback from writer-director Brian Helgeland (Payback, A Knight's Tale, 42)? At long last, here's one movie with two often incomprehensible Tom Hardy characters, sometimes muttering their Cockney swears at each other inside the same scene.
Hardy plays twins, real-life gangsters who ruled London's East End in the 1960s. The nicer one, Reggie Kray, is Hardy unadorned, with the actor for once unencumbered by wrought-iron face masks or crab-claw breathing apparatuses. It's bliss to watch him swan, in the early scenes; he maybe should be subtitled, but his smooth toughness and the soundtrack cues tell you all you need to know. Stalking his cramped brick Whitechapel streets, trailed by Scotland Yard investigators, he's all "Green Onions."
The highlight comes early, as Reggie courts a too-young teen played by a tart Emily Browning. Helgeland stages a sensational tribute to Goodfellas, a long take through a club that Reggie owns, with swells and lowlifes and entertainers kowtowing to the swain and his prize. In just a few minutes, Hardy swings from charmer to boss-man to monster.
But Hardy's playing twins, remember? Reggie's yang is thick-jawed Ron, a cruel and unstable bruiser recently sprung from a mental hospital and given to occasionally ruining everything, including the movie. Here is the Hardy who loves to deny us his movie-star face. The filmmakers slap on some horn-rims, spackle away all the expressive lines from his forehead, beef up his nose, and wad cotton or chestnuts or something into his cheeks. The getup is only slightly less of a distraction than Johnny Depp's in Black Mass, a movie that might have been called Franken Berry Seizes Southie.