The first time he really came to our notice in a massive way was as Bane. There had been glimpses of him here and there, but rarely had Edward Thomas Hardy been the talk of the town. Some of this apparent lack of well-deserved attention can be attributed to his movies, which were not the type to grab attention from the word go. Instead, they took time to build a rapport with the audience; an acquired taste.
Tom Hardy’s body of work is limited but quite impressive, and is rapidly developing character. His first screen presence in The Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down – both critically acclaimed wartime movies, weren’t exactly defining, but they both did enough to bring Hardy to notice. Looking back, even then it was blatantly obvious the potential of this actor, given the right opportunities. It was hard to miss the very clear and expressive eyes, which conveyed a thousand words more than the meagre lines allotted to his characters in either movie. Time moved on however, to Star Trek: Nemesis, where Hardy was cast as the creepy, bald, damaged villain Shinzon, which the audience really didn’t take to heart. The movie was tacky, and even Hardy’s acting prowess could do little to compensate the damage. But the movie, for all its garishness, can at least be credited with the origin of the concept of Tom Hardy playing a very convincing villain. This was followed by a flurry of fleeting appearances in The Reckoning, Dot the I, Layer Cake and Minotaur. Predominantly, British productions, none of these big screen endeavours were really recognised. Meanwhile, Hardy was making steady progress in theatre and several other TV dramas; most notably Blood and In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, The Virgin Queen and my personal favourite Stuart: A Life Backwards.
Things started getting hot from 2008, when he starred as one of the pivotal characters in the Guy Ritchie-directed RocknRolla. His British roots were well used in this slick crime-comedy flick, and we got to see, for the first time, the full glory of his quintessential character – a tough yet vulnerable, good-at-heart bloke. Greater success courted Hardy in Bronson, where he played pretty much the opposite. It was a painful watch, made even more cringeworthy by the brutish demeanour of Hardy’s character, which only accentuates his versatility – both in his depiction of the physical appearances and psychological reaches.
And then, he was picked up by Christopher Nolan. We should all have seen this coming. Tom Hardy’s eclectic choice of characters has never enabled us to typecast him, though I still maintain, there is something of the hardened, all-feeling-non-responsiveness about his face, and a grace which is so typical of all of Nolan’s men. Hardy’s character of Eames was my favourite in Inception (2010). He was of course, a cog in the wheel, but a smooth, extremely efficient, wise-cracking one indeed, the type that neutralised the at times high-strung Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the scientific meticulousness of Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
The following year, Hardy relapsed into portraying what he is evidently the best at. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) was a movie that required all the controlled flow of emotions prevalent in the Cold War-era men and Hardy’s character as Ricki Tarr was perfect in every sense of the word. There wasn’t much in the way of screen time for Hardy, but he knocked it out of the park anyway. As I said before, portraying vulnerability without dissolving into a puddle is his forte and though the actual character in John Le Carre’s original story had more complications, I was glad that the movie broke it down into something simpler yet retaining the pain and hopelessness. Either way, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, despite offering only a little presence, must have been a turner in Tom Hardy’s career.
More was yet to come. The same year, the underrated and initially-ignored Warrior hit the screens, and those who watched it, were blown over. The triad of Nick Nolte-Tom Hardy-Joel Edgerton had depicted a beautiful father-siblings relationship through the raw blood-and-sweat world of mixed martial arts. Tom Hardy was only second best to Nick Nolte and yet again, his brooding, bitter character was testament to Hardy’s ability to emote without a twitch. I shall carefully swing round This Means War, which strictly shouldn’t have been made, or at least not have enticed the attention of either of its stars, but come 2012, and Lawless happened. It was a violent movie alright, that’s the first thought that comes to the mind, and it was a superbly acted one too. Tom Hardy with his rumbling voice and keen eyes reminded me a bit of Bud played by Russell Crowe in LA Confidential.
Later in the year, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises hit the screen. Like in its predecessors, the bad guys needed matching up to Batman, not just in raw strength and wit, but also in the extent of emotional damage and ruthlessness. Sadly, barring a single scene, we always had to contend with the mask on his face, which only chose to accentuate his eyes, and let his body gestures do the rest of the emoting. And what we saw made us scared of him – not as much as the Joker maybe, but enough to get us worried for the Batman.
I guess Tom Hardy is one of those actors in our generation, who we shall have seen rise to epic heights, slowly, doggedly. He has already reached a stage where his presence in a movie would be a good enough reason to watch it. And he is already beginning to be the solo lead. Locke was released earlier in the month, and is already receiving rave reviews, particularly on the acting front (which is significant, since Hardy is the only actor in this narrative that sees him driving and talking into a speaker phone). Trailers are also out for Drop, which looks like another Warrior, minus the brawn. Later in the year, we can expect Child 44, and the few pictures we get to see of Hardy (and his self-admitted hero Gary Oldman) in this movie, are adequately disconcerting. Sometime in the near future, we know for sure that Tom Hardy shall appear as Max Rockatansky (of Mad Max fame) and Elton John in Rocketman. This alone should settle the question on this actor’s chameleonic abilities.
And as for the casual audience such as us, we can revel in the fact that in any movie starring Tom Hardy, there would be at least one scene worth sparing our attention on, even if the rest of it turns out to be junk.