Tom Hardy did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ronald "Ronnie" and Reginald "Reggie" Kray in Legend.
Legend is a film though I find watchable enough, with even some great moments, is a bit problematic as a gangster film about the notorious Kray twins who attempted to control the crime underworld in London during the 1960's.
The film itself has an inability to really decide on a tone on whether it was to be a more realistic depiction of the rise and fall of a gangster like Goodfellas, or would like to be something purposefully more bombastic and stylistic like Gangster No.1. Now this might not be as damning as it could be simply because a realistic gangster film also has to be a bit over the top simply to be accurate to begin with. Now there may be a purpose for this, though it is not all that well realized story wise, through Tom Hardy's portrayal of both Kray twins. Although the twins are identical they actually rather different looking nonetheless due to Ronnie's glasses, his nose, and his contorted face, the latter of which Hardy rather brilliantly pulls off himself. In addition the two of them have distinct accents made by Hardy despite both being cockney. For Reggie Hardy basically finds an accent that is the most refined a cockney sound can be while still being cockney. For Ronnie on the other hand Hardy gives a much courser accent. Both of these are done with complete consistency by Hardy as they not only feel natural to his characters, but already allude to their differences. I have to admit Hardy managed to make them so distinct that I basically forgot that this is a dual role, since Hardy makes both of them unique right from the outset.
We are first introduced to Hardy's Reggie, after the title screen, as he goes about his duties as a gangster so to speak, but despite the technical brutality of the job there's nothing harsh about this performance, yet. Hardy is the epitome of a suave gangster as he goes about his day. Hardy just in the way he walks as Reggie is just brimming with really an endearing confidence, as though he's almost walking on air, a man whose a bit above it all, and has somehow earned it. One of his earliest scenes is when he goes about taking care of business which leads him to the door of Frances Shea (Emily Browning). Hardy is extremely charming in this scene as Reggie asks Frances out despite the fact that Reggie does this by attempting to slightly blackmail her by suggesting he'll be easier on her brother if she says yes. Hardy though makes it work without question, and it is wholly believable that Frances would be swept off her feet by him. Hardy just is so perfectly smooth as Reggie, carrying the right kind of Marlon Brando charm well when Brando was charming that is. Hardy plays it not that he really conceals his roughness exactly, but rather is able to wear it in a way that makes it seem oh so appealing. That's not quite the case for Ronnie Kray though.
We find Ronnie after that title screen first as he's in a mental hospital where the psychiatrist must be strong armed in order to agree to Kray's release. Hardy now here is a bit on the other end of things as there is nothing smooth about Ronnie. Hardy's terrific in just realizing the way Ronnie speaks which goes even beyond his accent. Hardy has this very internalized externalized approach with Ronnie which obviously sounds odd, but makes sense with the character. That being Ronnie whole demeanor is a bit hard to ignore, and in no way does he ever seem retiring in the least. Hardy has the bent way he speaks as though he is often really only talking to himself at times. The demented reality of Ronnie's mind is found in Hardy's jumbled delivery of whenever Ronnie speaks his mind. There's always something so very off about him yet there is a pivotal lack of shame Hardy suggests in Ronnie's demeanor. There's definite a similair confidence found in Hardy's Ronnie as there is in his Reggie, though the nature of it is a bit different. Hardy shows Reggie as a man confident in his abilities to win someone over, with Ronnie on the other hand Hardy presents a man confident with his ability to be the psychopath he is.
Now the film's alternating tone actually could be attached to each Kray's view of what being a gangster means exactly. Reggie obviously sees crime as a way to considerable success therefore a bit more low key whereas Ronnie seems to be far more interested in the flamboyant and, well, the rather violent elements of the life. There's separate attitudes are particularly well shown early on in a scene that features double Hardy, which are all the best scenes really, as Reggie and Ronnie are lured into a trap by their gangster rival. The scene is a great moment for both of Hardy's performances. With Reggie Hardy finds so well his particular attitude in dealing with the fight which again is to treat it with such eloquence. Hardy makes Reggie a true master in this domain and even in such a fight he still somehow seems respectable. Hardy with Ronnie on the other hand is quite entertaining in portraying Ronnie close to drooling with the idea of the fight portraying him with such intensity as he basically seeks to be the titular Legend, declaring his desire for a "proper gunfight". Hardy even finds something to bring out of the performance of the fight itself for each, having Reggie like a proper boxer dealing with each foe, Ronnie though Hardy presents him like rabid animal indulging what seems to be his greatest delight.
Of course the gangster's life involves more than a proper gunfight or a blunt object fight as they try to deal with day to day business of running their illegal and legal operations. Hardy again carries himself perfectly as Reggie when he's the man of the nightclub, always being a man there, as well as when discussing important business with the the American mafia. Hardy makes Reggie a man born to rule finding that cool needed for a man who keeps calm even when dealing with some potentially dangerous men. Hardy is the polar opposite in his portrayal of Ronnie in his dealings with the business side of things suggesting a considerable unease even in Ronnie as he try to deal with anything that seems the slightest bit boring to him. Hardy in this case is marvelous in presenting the considerable awkwardness in Ronnie, which is kind of always there anyway, but only grows. He's especially good in planting basically one of the seeds of the Kray's destruction by making Ronnie have a clear distaste for this aspect of being gangster, but also showing that Ronnie has trouble even understanding it. Hardy's great though by alluding to such a danger in this confusion as the more confused Ronnie is the more off-putting he becomes.
It probably sounds like I was praising the varying tone there, but I think certain scenes show perhaps what the film could have been if it more effectively intertwined both Kray's story. The tonal shifts could have even seemed appropriate in order to represent each Kray's personal style. The film only really gets along because of Hardy, since few scenes have enough rhyme or reason and frequently fail to build up to something special. Now in purely looking at the strength of a performance though that's completely fine for Hardy. Hardy manages to do something special with each, and certainly does his best within the film's messy frame by portraying the separate life of each Kray so well. As Ronnie, Hardy manages to actually be rather hilarious when he's suppose to be in delivering the messy madness of the man, and makes sense of a man who somehow finds sense in trying to create his own personal utopia in Ethiopia. Hardy though somehow is even menacing in realizing how terrifying the mess could be, since he makes the man's psychotic intensity always a constant. Now it seems much more serious minded in the story of Reggie particularly with his romance with Frances. Hardy importantly in these scenes makes Reggie love towards her honest with a true warmth, though at the same time finds the right conflict through his consistent hesitation whenever she suggests he become a better man.
Technically speaking these two sides should not come together at all, but Hardy pulls it off particularly when he shares scenes with himself. It needs to be said that Hardy somehow finds the right chemistry with himself, and manages to cohere the tones represented by each brother by making it really the conflict between them. What's most likely the best scene of the film is when the two of them come directly to blows and Hardy is incredible in depicting the breakdown caused by those personalities he's so well developed to this point. The film's second half is where it really starts to get clumsy in its story telling nevertheless Hardy still shines through. He's outstanding in fashioning each Kray's downfall separately managing a connection in the end. Ronnie's downfall is expected, and my favorite solo scene of Ronnie may be when he basically lives his dream by assassinating the Kray's gangster rival. Hardy's amazing in the scene having Ronnie walk with such pride, and conviction as he goes about his task even though he is in fact dooming himself into life incarceration. Hardy properly makes Reggie's a bit more complex as his downfall comes in part due to his relationship with Frances. Hardy is very moving even in creating the honesty in Reggie's love for her, but unconditional it never quite can be. He reveals the truth about Reggie, which connects him directly to his brother, which that he too really is just a barbarian in a suit at heart, he just knows how to wear the suit better. Hardy's fantastic in presentation of the conflict in Reggie and is always convincing in representing the contradiction of the man. The truly despicable moments of Reggie Hardy makes equally honest though suggesting his own sick joy of the lifestyle that makes him more like Ronnie than he'd want to admit. The loss of Frances, very much caused by Reggie, leads him also to a murder that's his downfall. It is not a moment of pride for Reggie, and Hardy is even a little heartbreaking somehow by leaving Reggie an emotional mess who can only accept himself as the man he chose to be. As you probably surmised I love both of Hardy's performances here. The film doesn't quite come together, but this never hinders Hardy. He gives two compelling portraits of two men who are vastly different in terms of personality, but in the end are just the same as men.