The Debrief: Tom Hardy’s Genre Roles

 

The second big run at Venom arrives today! After a well meaning but flawed Topher Grace incarnation in Spider-Man 3, the patron saint of 1990s comics excess is about to goo his way back on screen. This time he’s embodied by Tom Hardy, one of the best actors of his generation. While it’s almost impossible for be to not see goggle eyes on Venom and hear him as the Cookie Monster (‘EDDIE. DO BAD GUYS HAVE COOKIE?!’), I’m really looking forward to the movie.

Actually I think I might be looking forward to the movie because of that.

Well, that and Tom Hardy, One of my favorite Western actors he’s also something of a genre frequent flyer and he’s done good work in the field too. Here are some of the standouts.

The tenth Star Trek movie and final (Until the new show! Wooo!) outing for the Next Gen crew has a raft of problems. The blisteringly ill advised psychic rape sequence is surely one of the biggest, with the weirdly structured and paced sub-plot involving an early version of Data coming a close second. As a sign off, Nemesis plays a lot like another installment. As another installment, it plays a bit too much like a sig noff.

But there’s a lot to enjoy here too and a vast amount of that is Hardy. As Shinzon, the Romulan-comissioned Picard clone at the center of the movie, he’s fantastic. Mirroring elements of Sir Patrick Stewart’s delivery and gait, he also brings the measured, cold-eyed focus Hardy would come to specialize in to the role. You can see Shinzon’s admiration for Picard at war with his conditioning and it gives the character an almost Shakespearean feel and marked Hardy, early on, as a versatile actor to watch.

Oh Mr Eames. As the Forger in the dream heist crew, Hardy plays against type to truly delightful effect. Eames is a big physical presence, but an endlessly calm, refined and laconic one too. Eames is directly responsible for saving Dom at one point and uses his skill to impersonate others inside the various dreams. His wit? That he mostly uses to bounce around Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur.

Eames works as well as he does because of how Hardy plays him. Memorably described as ‘An old, Graham Greene-type diplomat; sort of faded, shabby, grandeur – the old Shakespeare lovey mixed with somebody from Her Majesty’s Special Forces” Eames is one of those people who’s nice until it’s time to not be nice. Endlessly competrent, relentlessly professional and we totally ship him and Arthur. Dream a little bigger, darling. For all of us.

This is some of the smartest, subtlest work any Western leading man has done so far this century. Hardy is amazing here, in a performance which channels his emotional eloquence through his physicality to create something genuinely special. Max is feral, and not in the ‘MY DEAD WIIIIIIFE!’ pointless angst way the character has previously drifted into. No, Hardy’s Max is a man who has lived in the wilderness long enough to like it there. Long enough, worse still, to drop his eyes from the road and just live day to day. He’s literally and metaphorically no longer the hero of his story. Furiosa is and Max’s support of her journey is the first admirable thing, it’s implied, he’s done for years. Not to mention being the start of his own journey back to himself.

It also leads to a performance that lives in minuscule facial expressions and tiny, mumbled lines. His delivery on ‘…That’s bait.’, the tired, wounded little thumbs up he gives someone shortly before tragedy rips them apart. The fact that, when chained to the front of a warboy vehicle with an improvised gag over his mouth he’s clearly swearing up a storm. Hardy excels here, and excels all the more because he and Max, are in a supporting role.

Ah yes, the mumbly Sir Alex Guiness vocal impression performance. I freely admit Bane is a deal breaker for a lot of people but I honestly think Hardy and Anne Hathaway hold this movie together. Hathaway because she seizes onto the fundamental moral ambiguity of Selina Kyle and has a ton of fun with it. Hardy because he grabs the two things that make Bane work as a character and rides them all the way to the end of the line; his bulk and his intellect.
The bulk is something Hardy has always been able to put on, and lose, to similar degrees to co-star Christian Bale. Hardy’s first breakout role was as the hulking prisoner Charles Bronson and a later role would see him return to this kind of size as a mixed martial artist in vastly underrated sports movie Warrior. Here, he wears it in the exact way Bane was always drawn; massive to an almost inhuman degree but moving lightly with it. That means Bane works, even when the movie does not, because like Heath Ledger’s Joker, he feels larger than but still tethered to, life.

That’s where the intelligence comes in too. Hardy’s Bane is a pharmaceutically enhanced Mussolini, thumbs through his flak vest and calmly explaining what’s going on to the lesser humans even as he breaks them. That calm is why he’s so terrifying. He’s already won the fight, he’s just going through the motions for fun. It’s a classic super villain trope but in the hands, and oddly reassuring accent,of Hardy, it becomes real, intimidating and a lynch-pin for the film.

Oh and while this isn’t Hardy, it wouldn’t exist without his work and that would be a shame.

And finally, Locke.his isn’t a genre movie, not even a little. But, written and directed by Steven Knight who’d go on to work with Hardy on the excellent Taboo, it’s easily Hardy’s finest work and a massively innovative, brave movie.

On the eve of the largest non-nuclear concrete pour in European history, construction foreman Ivan Locke, played by Hardy, discovers that Bethan, a colleague he had a one night stand with seven months previously, is going into labor. With work to do at the site, expected back home and with countless other pressures stacking up, Ivan gets in his car and heads off to be with Bethan for the birth of their child.

That’s the movie; Hardy, in a car, for 85 minutes, talking for his life. It’s a one man show in all but name although Ruth Wilson and Olivia Colman are especially good as his wife and girlfriend in voice over. The film never excuses what Ivan did, never lets him off the hook and always keeps locked in on him. Hardy’s endlessly calm, and endlessly working to be calm, presence is the anchor around which the whole thing turns and it’s an exhausting, tense and utterly compelling way to spend 85 minutes. Along with Fury Road, this remains one of his finest performances to date.

 

There are numerous other non-genre performances where Hardy shines too. I’d especially recommend The Drop. Warrior and his glowering titanic work in Taboo. In all these cases he finds the center of the character and puts himself there. In all these cases he impresses. I can’t  wait to see what he does with Eddie Brock and Venom. Even if the chances of goggle eyes are pretty low.

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