While it may seem like the obvious choice to address this letter to you, it’s also the only choice. Because what Legend is really about—rather than an exploration of the infamous London gangsters, the Kray twins—is displaying your mercurial talents.
When people use the term “star vehicle” Legend could be held up as the platonic ideal. And what a purring E-Type it is—every moment onscreen is filled an inescapable Tom Hardy-ness. From the opening frame of this rose colored paean to a mythic 1960’s London, Legend is far more interested in you as a performer than telling any particular story.
You are the most interesting English language male actor in the last thirty or forty years: half Paul Newman, one part Cary Grant and more than a little Robert Mitchum. You are also one of the few artists that is worth paying money to see for your performance alone, regardless of the writing, direction, or subject matter. And every scene of Legend—whether you are playing the unapologetically gay, batshit insane Ronnie, or the smooth-as-glass, bespoke-suited Reggie—is possessed by your presence. The whole film’s center of gravity lurches around after you whenever you move through the frame.
The fact that you are so compelling as an actor can be both a feature and a bug. In a film where your character(s) is/are the focal point that magnetism is generally useful since your talents tends to soften some of the elements that would undermine the narrative—whereas in a something like Lawless you tend to overwhelm lesser actors (cough—LaBeouf—cough) to the extent that the film feels lopsided and uneven.
There are only a few scenes when you are on camera with yourself and these are the high points of the film. The sheer virtuosity of one individual playing twins while creating two entirely differentiated personalities is a goddamn magic trick. Aside from the comparison to Jeremy Irons in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (a film that gave the central performance far more support) there isn’t anything that comes close. One specific scene early on in the film—where you both kick the piss out of some rival gang members—is technically proficient and also a great example of how it’s possible to express character through action, rather than dialogue. Director Brian Helgeland doesn’t always make great choices (the voice over really was terribly clunky and inept) but he was astute in giving your characters space to breathe as individuals, while still underlining the inexorable and ultimately destructive pull each of them had on the other.
The fact that it is possible to evaluate Reggie and Ronnie as separate performances is probably the highest praise I can give. You managed to turn a glossy nothing of a film into something pretty memorable. Next time I hope the film surrounding you rises to your level.