Even as bloodless gangsters go, the British Kray twins cut remarkably effective cults of personality.
By the time their reign of terror ended in the ’60s, they had become the personification of British crime lords, savage, nasty and intimidating but with a nice cup of tea at the end.
Like Whitey Bulger, still basking in the glory of his own sympathetic bio-pic, Black Mass, the brothers were from a lower-class enclave – in their case, London’s East End – also like Bulger, they were men of their neighborhood through and through, the rest of their gang mostly kids they grew up with on the mean streets of Cockney Town.
Of the twins, Reggie was the more handsome and debonair one, choosing to see his gangster lifestyle as a means to an end toward upper-class mobility and the respect of his peers.
As the film begins, the brothers are just starting to assert their dominance, wiping out a rival gang in a series of brutal takedowns, and clearing the way for their rise to power.
As all gangster stories, especially those based on real characters, always follow the same sort of trajectory – rising from nothing, slowly taking over, becoming rich and sloppy, then either going to jail or dying in a hail of rivals’ bullets – often the point of watching them lies in the performances of the actors up on the screen.
With the help of special effects and clever editing, the brothers are often pitched in the same place – and in one explosive scene, even set against each other in a brutal dust-up – but so seamless is Hardy’s transition between them, you never question which one is which.