This year you definitely won’t see a better double portrayal by an actor than Tom Hardy’s astonishing performance as the notorious Kray twins in this movie.
However, the film built around those two master classes in acting doesn’t really do them justice.
This is not through a lack of high production values or an untalented supporting cast, both of which are top notch, but rather because the script is unfocused and relies on a voiceover by a dead character to give it structure.
That character is Frances (Emily Browning), Reggie’s wife. Dazzled by his good looks and easy charm she finds herself sucked into the brothers’ seductive crime world of glamorous clubs and famous punters. But she knows the menace that lies behind the surface glitz and struggles to cope with the emotional pressure that puts her under.
Meanwhile, Ronnie – played by Hardy as if he’s on mega-strength downers (which he actually was for his paranoid schizophrenia) – is a loose cannon firing off at unpredictable moments. There’s a great scene when the two brothers have a bust-up in their club where Ronnie looks like he’s unsure who or where he is and why his brother is hitting him.
There are other moments of inspired direction from Brian Helgeland, but the problem is the voiceover doesn’t keep a strong enough grip on the narrative which seemingly drifts from one set of scenes to another in no coherent or cohesive manner. It’s also really difficult to know where you are as far as the timeline is concerned (unless you are well acquainted with actual historical events from the Krays’ reign of terror). It’s only when arch-rival Charlie Richardson (an under-used Paul Bettany) is arrested while watching England win the football World Cup that you realise it has to be 1966.
Emily Browning’s Frances is lovely and guileless but is too frail a character to hold the movie together and although Hardy is monumental as both of the brothers, the film’s structure makes them players in someone else’s story.
Showing this violent slice of East End history from Frances’s perspective ultimately leaves the viewer at one remove from Reg and Ron when they should be its be all and end all.