10 September 2015

Legend: One Actor, Two Characters

By Cassio | Categorised in Movie reviews, Film News

If you’re in your late twenties, or early thirties, it’s likely that your first experience of Lindsay Lohan was in the 1999 remake of The Parent Trap. If you’re younger, you might have an altogether less wholesome view of the troubled actress.

Then again, we all find Lindsay Lohan-shaped common ground in Mean Girls…

I digress.

The reason we’re discussing The Parent Trap is because, for many of us, it was the first time we’d seen an actor portraying two roles in one film. Or was she a twin? The younger version of us didn’t know. We were perplexed when we found out it was one person. Witchcraft, surely?

In the intervening years, the technique of an actor playing multiple parts in the same film has become commonplace, some to great acclaim (Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood, Nicolas Cage in Adaptation) while others were less generously received (Michael Keaton in Multiplicity, Adam Sandler in Jack & Jill).

When the technique is used well, it’s extremely hard not to get caught up in the story. For example, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Enemy has a doppelganger, a semi-famous actor, whom he seeks out. Their meeting is handled with such brilliant continuity and technique, as well as differentiation from Gyllenhaal, that you begin to believe it. There are no awkward moments when the over the shoulder shot is clearly a body double, or where their eye lines don’t quite match up. Verisimilitude at its finest, including some amazing physical interaction between the characters, which takes even more skill to accomplish. Another way of handling this is to never have the actors occupy the same space and time. In the aforementioned, There Will Be Blood, Paul Dano plays twin brothers who in the film, never share a scene. This way, the actors can completely separate themselves from worrying about how their performances will match up.

This is why in a film like Jack and Jill (which we don’t recommend to anyone, ever) the technique is wasted. Adam Sandler in a wig. That’s the gag. If you’re going to waste the crew and editor’s time with having to worry about making characters seem real, just hire a woman who looks a bit like Adam Sandler. Problem solved, millions saved.

You’ve got to consider whether or not having the same actor play both parts is crucial. If it is, you’ve got to make it as seamless as possible, otherwise people will be distracted by the lack of technique, and the plausibility of the story is compromised.

We recommend the following films, where one actor plays multiple roles:

Dave (1993)

Kevin Kline plays the president as well as a guy who is brought in to pretend to be the president. The real president has a heart attack, whilst conducting extra-marital activities, so the swap takes place to cover up the truth. For most of the film, the two are never in the same room, making this charming film completely believable.

The Double (2013)

Jesse Eisenberg stars in Richard Ayoade’s, The Double. There is a lot of interaction, physical contact and scene sharing between Eisenberg’s two characters. However, it’s been thought out, and the two characters are played to polarized perfection in this bleak tale of one-upmanship.

Adaptation (2002)

We had to include this film. If you’ve not seen it, you’re in for a treat, as Nicholas Cage plays both parts of the Kaufman brothers. This film is strange yet funny, and so wonderfully original, that the writer’s guild of America named this as the 77th best movie screenplay ever written.

This week sees the release of Legend, the Kray twins biopic from director Brian Helgeland.

So, how does Tom Hardy fare, playing both Reggie and Ronnie Kray?

Scenes with both brothers together (which comprises most of the film) are directed so well, that a fight between the two ensues, and focus switches to whom you think will win, rather than looking for the clever editing. And it is clever editing. In one scene, just before the ominous basement party, to which Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie is invited, Ron uses Reg’s knee to ease himself into his seat, before repeating the trick to help him out of it. Enough physical contact, nonchalantly executed, to solidify the magic. Add to that, Tom Hardy’s intensity (of which he is often accused/praised for) and you’re sold on the characters, but not much else.
There’s a slightly false feel to Helgeland’s London, as if props and costumes from a musical were borrowed when budget ran out. It lacks elements of realism that you’d associate with east end London in the 1950’s and 60’s, save for the violence, and as such it’s hard to buy into the feel of the film. At one point, Reggie is being walked to his cell, and the prison looks a lot like a set. Of course it is a set, but it shouldn’t feel like one from your cinema seat. There’s the feeling of missed opportunity, and with England’s most famous gangsters, being played by one of its finest actors, you could be forgiven for hoping for slightly more.

Hardy, however, is magnificent as always. His screen presence and commitment to the character(s) is compelling, whilst his performance as Ronnie Kray is terrifying and hilarious in equal measure. Without him as the Kray brothers, this may not have had many plaudits, as the film deals as much with the firm’s business dealings as it does with Reggie and Francis’ relationship (told mainly in Francis’ narration throughout), almost completely omitting their brother Charlie, an integral member of the firm, from the history books. It also runs a little too long, but then ends rather abruptly, giving us a sense that the director’s cut might be significantly longer.

Legend is more than worth watching for Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the Kray brothers. However if you are expecting the grittiness associated with gangland London in the 50’s and 60’s, it could leave you a little unsatisfied.

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