As Brian Helgeland’s Kray twins biopic begins, we have narration from Reginald Kay’s wife, Frances Shea (Emily Browning). It’s a promising start, as it appears that we’re delving into these well-publicised events (initially brought to the silver screen back in 1990 in Peter Medak’s endeavour) from an outside perspective, peering in to this dark, criminal underworld from an innocent, endearingly naive and detached source. However as we progress into proceedings Frances becomes something of a mere side-note, leaving us with a film that is devoid of any true focus, not quite sure if it’s attempting to be a stylistic offering in the same mould as Bronson, or be naturalistic and gritty – instead falling carelessly between the two.

Tom Hardy plays both roles; Reginald – the smarter, seemingly more controlled twin, whose job it is to ensure the pair appear unimpeachable on the outside, with a charm and swagger that can get them off the hook in the most perilous of situations. Ronald, on the other hand, is somewhat more eccentric and irrational, with more violent tendencies (and a stint in a mental institution) – with seemingly less faith in those who claim to be allies. However as the years pass, and their reputation across the streets of London grows, their conflicting sensibilities begin to merge – and suddenly the line between sensible and unreliable becomes increasingly more blurred.

Stylistically contrived, Helgeland puts too much emphasis on the whole tone and aesthetic of the piece, that he loses sight of the character nuances, which are essential to this title working. Instead, with a cool, funky soundtrack, combined with the period setting, the 60s cars, the outfits, the hairstyles, it’s the ambiance which takes precedence, certainly owing a lot to Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in that department, in how the murky side to London is depicted with an almost romanticised glow. However in some ways, Helgeland doesn’t thrive in this area enough, trying to have his cake and eat it, attempting to be overtly grandiloquent, and yet wanting to capture the more gravelly, naturalistic elements – without truly excelling in either.

Nonetheless, Hardy’s almost caricature take on the twins, and his inclination to overact in parts, actually works in the film’s favour, ramping up the more surrealistic elements on show, in line with the playful tone. His performance(s) is(are) incredible too, and though Ronald is identifiable by the fact he wears glasses, you always know the second we see Hardy, which twin he’s portraying at any given moment. Though overstating his performance somewhat, the differences to either demeanour are subtle and yet entirely distinctive. Meanwhile the effects implemented to ensure the same actor can be two characters in one single scene are faultless, as you never once question the fact that Hardy is playing both protagonists.

So not only are we seeing double, but there’s just so little focus to this title. There are so many fascinating elements that surround these gangster siblings, but this picture is too generalised, not picking any, one single theme and using that as a catalyst, and means of comprehending the bigger picture. Not to mention how formulaic it becomes. Go into the pub, beat someone up, leave, argue with other brother about what’s just happened, do it again, and repeat to fade. Maybe that is exactly what the Kray twins’ lives were like – but it doesn’t make for particularly compelling viewing in this instance.