Tom Hardy in any movie is enough awesomeness for most fans. Two Tom Hardy roles in one film, however, make that formula irresistible. And here you have Hardy playing both of the legendary Kray brothers, British gangsters who terrorized and held together the underworld aspect of Swinging London from about 1960 to 1968. Brother Ron seems like your typical Hollywood version of a gangster antihero, romantic and violent, while Reggie’s antisocial side is far more pronounced.
The film, which also offers a stunning supporting cast that includes the dazzling Emily Browning, David Thewlis, and Chazz Palminteri, chronicles the brothers’ rise and fall, etcetra. In addition to the star power, the American director Brian Hegeland, who also did 42 and wrote L.A. Confidential, introduces a lot of charming and happily disorienting details like Reggie’s mobile home camp and an orgy of hammer violence in a gangster pub.
Hardy is great here, but like most crime movies, the story is far more interesting as the boys carve out their empire than it is as they begin losing it. Visual dazzle can prevent the ultimate comedown of watching a guilty pleasure fall apart slowly. We root for Id monsters because we envy their singleness of purpose, until they carve up somebody we like. In this film it’s Ron’s treatment of his loving wife (Browning) that tips the scale. A good monster story deserves a fiery ending, but all Hegeland can muster for his antiheroes is an anticlimax bathed in ironies.