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Tom Hardy gives two tremendous performances in “Legend,” the brutally violent mixed bag biopic of twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray, a pair of notorious gangsters in 1960s London.

Hardy pulls double duty and plays both brothers, and it’s not just the gimmick of the dual role — achieved via flawless digital trickery — that makes his work so impressive. He breathes fire in both roles and gives each of the brothers their own distinct personality, so they stand on their own as characters. If Hardy didn’t pull two paychecks for the movie, he got ripped off.

Beyond Hardy, however, “Legend” strikes an uneven balance. Writer-director Brian Helgeland, an Oscar winner for his “L.A. Confidential” script, mixes extreme violence, bursts of humor and a classic rock soundtrack, but lacks the finesse Scorsese brought to “Goodfellas.” His script, based on John Pearson’s book “The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins,” gets stuck repeating itself and begins to feel like a house of mirrors. While it shows the sad monotony of gangster life, dramatically, it hits a dead end.

Reggie Kray is a suave gangster and Ronnie is his diagnosed psychopath twin, and together they team up to make London their personal playground. Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch”) is Reggie’s sweetheart and the narrator of the story, though her perspective offers its own set of narrative problems.

The thick cockney accents are often difficult to make heads or tails of, though Hardy’s performance — nay, performances — are so electrifying they cut through the confusion. Watch “Legend” for him and him alone. He’s great, times two.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

‘Legend’

GRADE: B-

Rated R: for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual and drug material

Running time:

131 minutes

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