Legend: Hardy gives us both barrels

Ronnie and Reggie. They almost sound sweet don’t they? Like Bill and Ben the flower pot men. But they’re not. Far from it. Ronald and Reginald Kray were possibly the scariest two brothers you could hope to meet (or pray not to meet) in London in the ’50s and ’60s. Born identical twins in 1933, they worked their way up the organised crime ladder to become owners of nightclubs and casinos, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, politicans and high society types alike.

Quite a story you might say, it would make a good film. Well, it’s been done before. In 1990 Gary and Martin Kemp (of Spandau Ballet) had a crack at it and did ok, receiving mildly positive acclaim. Yet they never quite had the cajones or screen presence to really do these two guys justice.

Fast forward fifteen years and we get a much slicker production, bigger budget, better cast and, most importantly, a lead that is nothing but menace and screen presence, Tom Hardy. As an actor Hardy had had a few decent parts for a few years until Nicholas Winding Refn cast him as Charles Bronson in Bronson. A towering, menacing performance that not only put him on the map, but showed the world that right here is an actor with real swagger, real menace, and intensity in buckets.

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And so the parts kept coming: an unhinged MMA fighter in Warrior, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road… yet he still hadn’t really fully opened the taps. He still hadn’t showed us what he could do.

With Legend, now he has. Most actors would relish the opportunity to play a legendary gangster, but two? Well, now you’re just being too nice. Not that being too nice is something you could associate with the Krays, but if it was just ‘a hard man’ you were after you may as well call Vinnie Jones. What Hardy has done so masterfully with this film is provide depth and likeability to both Ronnie and Reggie.

You root for them (sort of). Now that’s a hard task, and a hard ask of an actor. You need endless charisma and screen presence, and you need to pull off a convincing double role (acting opposite yourself, or a stand-in or a broom or something, it must be confusing).

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In terms of story this film is based on a book by John Pearson, The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland (of L.A. Confidential fame) and focuses on Reggie and his relationship with his wife Frances (Emily Browning) and how he dealt with his increasingly volatile brother Ron.

We cover a fair amount of ground, from the start of the Krays’ rise in power to their involvement with the American mafia and British Lords and politicians. At times Helgeland veers slightly into black humour territory, particularly as Hardy gives us that wild-eyed psychotic stare that made Ron seem so menacing, channelling more than a good dollop of Bronson in the process. With Reggie he had a harder job, showing a sweet side as he wooed Frances, then turning quite frighteningly on a dime to show intense menace if something displeased him.

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In both performances he utterly convinces, sucking you in, compelling you to watch what – as either Ronnie or Reggie – he’s going to do next. The rest of the cast (David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, briefly) do a fine job, but ultimately this is the Tom Hardy show and there’s barely a second of screen time in which he doesn’t dominate.

And as far as British gangster films go, this has to be up there with the greats such as The Long Good Friday, Get Carter and Layer Cake (underrated in my book). Even if you take the British bit out, this is still a gangster film worthy of that title alongside other classics from around the world. It may be a touch long and the story may lack a bit of punch (despite much punching going on) and momentum, but one cannot argue with the committed intensity of Hardy’s two performances. They’re a fair few months off but, Oscar anyone?

(Oh, and Hollywood, offer Tom more parts like this please.)

Will the real Gary Oldman please stand up?

drexl-spivey-true-romanceGary Oldman isn’t the original bad boy. That title would probably go to James Dean or someone similar. But, at least in terms of myself growing up, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for good old Gary in concentrated psycho mode. Obviously there’s Leon, but specifically I’m thinking Drexl in True Romance – sheer scene stealing brilliance.

And I imagine most of the guys I’ve listed below look up to Oldman, wishing their careers would follow a similar path. Indeed, Tom Hardy openly said so in interviews when he was just starting out. So, if Gary was in the room right now he’d probably graciously tilt his head to young chaps following in his mad and intense footsteps. At least, I like to think so. Either that or he’d throw his Chinese food at them and launch an insane attack in their direction. God bless him.

Here are the guys I think deserve that subtle Oldman head tilt:

James Franco as Alien (Spring Breakers)
Definitely mainlining pure essence of Drexl in Harmony Korine’s vacuous offering. Described by The Huffington Post as Scarface meets Britney Spears, Franco’s take on a wannabe rapper-cum-gangster is the film’s only redeeming quality. And that’s saying something when you’ve got Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson in bikinis for most of the movie.


Tom Hardy as Charlie Bronson
(Bronson)
Fearsome and frightening, even more so when naked and covered in white paint. Hardy is probably one of the best out there at the moment when it comes to intensity. A phenomenal and unrelenting performance as one of Britain’s most notorious criminals in Nicholas Winding Refn’s excellent (and somewhat underrated) film.


Sharlto Copley as Kruger
(Elysium)
Up to now he’s been the everyman trying to survive (District 9) and the funny man (The A-Team), so who knew Copley could do creepy and sadistic quite so well. In Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to 2009’s District 9, here Copley goes into full menace mode as mercenary agent hitman chappie, facing off against Matt Damon.


Paul Bettany as Young Gangster
(Gangster No. 1)
He does intense well, does old Paul. This film – which went largely under the radar in 2000 – had an impressive cast: David Thewlis, Eddie Marsan, Saffron Burrows and Malcolm McDowell. And don’t think ‘Young Gangster’ means his was a minor part, he drove the movie.


Vincent Cassell as Mesrine
(Mesrine: Killer Instinct/Public Enemy No. 1)
Arguably a career-best performance from Vincent Cassel in this two-part film that came out in 2008, charting the life of one of France’s most notorious criminals, Jacques Mesrine. Over both films Cassel’s portrayal of Mesrine was both charismatic and unnerving in its ferocity.


Michael Shannon as Curtis
(Take Shelter)
To be honest, you can take pretty much anything from Shannon’s filmography: Boardwalk Empire, Man Of Steel, The Iceman – over the last few years he’s been building his reputation as Hollywood’s go-to guy for unpredictable and explosive rage.


Obviously there’s others out there that perhaps deserve that special Oldman head tilt, but that’ll do for now – enough intensity for one evening. Now… who’s for some Disney?

Who are the top 20 most intense actors of recent times?

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I do like an intense character and performance when I’m watching a film. Someone who literally rivets and welds you to the screen, look away at your peril. Some people probably like their films bright and breezy. I don’t mind those too, but there’s something about intensity that leaves a lasting impression. You remember those performances.

As such I thought I’d offer a couple of lists of actors and actresses that have had me mesmerised, entranced and – at times – a little frightened. I’ve most likely left off a lot of vintage performances and characters, but this is MY list so I’m allowed. Let me know your thoughts. Who would you have liked to have seen included?

In these lists I’ve put links to clips from some performances you might not have seen before, or maybe just want to revisit. Remember though, best not watch alone though, these lot are intense!

The guys

  1. charlie bronsonDaniel Day Lewis (Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting, Gangs of New York; Daniel Plainview, There will be Blood)
  2. Heath Ledger (The Joker, The Dark Knight)
  3. Tom Hardy (Charles Bronson, Bronson)
  4. Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman, American Psycho; Batman, The Batman Trilogy)
  5. Kevin Spacey (John Doe, Seven)
  6. Christopher Walken (Vicenzo Carcotti, True Romance; Frank White, King of New York)
  7. Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men)
  8. Christopher Waltz (Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds)
  9. Vincent Cassel (Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine)
  10. Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills, Taken)
  11. Jeremy Renner (Sergeant William James, The Hurt Locker; Jem Coughlin, The Town)
  12. Gary Oldman (Drexel, True Romance)

The gals

  1. helena bonham carter harry potterHelena Bonham Carter (Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland; Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Galadriel, Lord of the Rings)
  3. Marion Cotillard (Mal, Inception)
  4. Angelina Jolie (Lisa Rowe, Girl, Interrupted)
  5. Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus, Inglourious Basterds)
  6. Charlize Theron (Aileen Wuornos, Monster)
  7. Famke Janssen (Xena Onotopp, Goldeneye; Jean Grey, Xmen: The Last Stand)
  8. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

So, there’s my list. You’ll notice there’s more men than women, I’m not sure why. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency – particularly in Hollywood – for studios to shy away from films with intense, female leads. I wonder if they are more of a risk commercially? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with a lack of decent scripts for women, ones that don’t play to stereotypes.

One thing I’ve noticed is how top actors portray intensity – for me – it’s in the eyes. I think it’s what separates great actors and actresses from the rest. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their gaze, there’s so much depth there. Depending on the character they’re playing, it can be equally exciting, captivating and terrifying. Watch Pacino in The Godfather, making the decision to kill with his eyes. A lesson in intensity.

Right, I need to go watch some comedy now to level out. It’s all got too much. I’ll finish with artwork of Marion Cotillard, not because it’s intense, but because it’s simply beautiful – and that’s all the reason you need.

Marion Cotillard artwork