Tom Hardy is an anomaly. He’s a character actor disguised as a sex symbol and an indie darling with blockbuster credentials. He’s the reluctant superhero and the vengeful super-villain. He’s the everyman and the madman. In an era where Hollywood has all but retired the movie star model, he’s become the heir to fearless leading men like Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Robert De Niro. No part is too small, and no voice is too strange.
Hardy’s latest film, “Capone,” adds another colorful rogue to his gallery, as he portrays the eponymous gangster at the end of his life. With that in mind, we decided to look back at Hardy’s impressive career and pinpoint his best film performances. Some were left off due to the actor’s limited screen time, so masterful turns in “Inception” (2010) and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011) will have to suffice as honorable mentions.
Here are the 10 performances that made the list…
10. “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” has a divisive reputation, with some calling it a masterpiece and others a disappointment. A point that most fans can agree upon, however, is that Hardy shines as the muscle-bound enforcer, Bane. He’s utterly mesmerizing from the film’s opening scene, capturing both the rage and the intellect that made the character a fan favorite in the comic books. Bane doesn’t take a single wasted breath, and the cold efficiency with which he attacks Batman would suggest something inhuman were it not for the actor’s pained eyes peeking through his mask.
The fact that Hardy manages to create a three-dimensional character with most of his face covered up is a testament to his physicality. Emotions that would normally register through a smirk or a grimace are conveyed through a minute hand gesture or a measured turn of the neck. Fans tend to get stuck on Bane’s speaking voice, which remains the weirdest (and therefore the greatest) of the Hardy voices, but there’s genuine skill being applied here.
9. “Dunkirk” (2017)
“Dunkirk” chronicles the struggles that British soldiers faced while trying to escape the eponymous beach during WWII. Christopher Nolan implements his usual directorial style through the non-linear structure and practical set pieces, but the film is unique in that it follows three separate narratives that coalesce in the final act. Hardy stars in the segment titled “The Air,” about a Spitfire pilot who’s tasked with patrolling the beachfront.
Once again, Hardy is forced to wear a mask over his face, limiting not only his facial expressions but his speaking voice. It’s as if Nolan was determined to find him a role that was more challenging than Bane, and to the actor’s credit, he delivered. He strikes the perfect balance between internal fear and external calm. Few actors can achieve as much with a twitch of the eye or a raise of the eyebrow. Nolan repays the favor by giving the character a stunning send-off and Hardy his coolest screen moment to date.
8. “Venom” (2018)
If ever someone were to question Hardy’s star power, one need only point them in the direction of 2018’s “Venom.” It’s a film that should have been DOA, with a generic villain and a gaggle of superhero clichés that make it seem as though it were based on a script from the ‘90s. Hardy single-handedly makes the film enjoyable by way of his charisma and his brazen acting choices. At times it’s difficult to tell whether he’s in on the joke or so deeply invested in the plot (failed reporter fuses with an alien symbiote named Venom) that the humor is unintentional. Either way, it works.
Take for example the scene where a spooked Eddie Brock (Hardy) meets up with his ex-girlfriend (Michelle Williams) at a restaurant. He proceeds to shout at nearby patrons, bite the head off a lobster, and climb into a fish tank while pleasurably exhaling. The CGI and the action scenes are fine, but the real appeal of “Venom” is in getting to watch Hardy act like the above for two hours. It takes a special kind of talent to make absurdity appealing.
7. “Legend” (2015)
Few actors get to play opposite themselves, but Hardy did just that in the real-life crime drama “Legend.” The film chronicles the rise and fall of the Kray twins who spearheaded the London underworld in the 1960s and whose volatile relationship proved to be their undoing. Writer-director Brian Helgeland goes out of his way to highlight the differences between the twins, and as such, Hardy is given the freedom to cover a wide range of personality quirks.
As Reggie, he’s smooth, cunning, and surprisingly romantic. The latter is especially welcome, given how rarely the actor is given a proper love interest. Ronnie, on the other hand, is a wrecking ball of insecurity and aggression. Hardy chews up the scenery (and various cigars) as the less stable Kray, and the sibling fistfight he incites serves as the film’s undeniable highlight. There’s not much to comment on besides Hardy’s double act (the script leans on far too many gangster clichés), but what a double act it is.
6. “The Drop” (2014)
“The Drop” is an underrated Hardy vehicle. He plays Bob, a Brooklyn native who operates a bar with his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) and turns a blind eye to the criminal dealings the bar attracts. Bob snaps out of his fugue-like state when two locals try to rob the place, proving that he may not be as clueless as he pretends to be. The film is based on a short story by Dennis Lehane, and like previous adaptations of his work (“Mystic River,” “Gone, Baby, Gone”) the setting and the seedy backdrops are just as important as the characters.
Hardy evokes tremendous sympathy as a man who seems like he’s always two steps behind. He moves through the film with a hunched discomfort, and even when he starts to initiate change, it’s clear that he would rather hide behind the security blanket of his bar. There are shades of Brando in “On the Waterfront” (1954) here, but Hardy puts his spin on the transformation by suggesting that Bob has been tricking the audience along with the other characters. It’s a performance that gets better with each new viewing.
5. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is Hardy’s best film. It’s a masterpiece of visual eccentricity, deceptively layered storytelling, and action set pieces that make the rest of the genre look creatively bankrupt. But since we’re basing the ranking on Hardy’s performances specifically, we’re inclined to place the film lower on the list. It’s not that he does a bad job, it’s that the character of Max requires a particular emphasis on stoicism and physicality.
Hardy isn’t given a chance to utilize all of his talents here, but the talents he does use are masterfully deployed. Nearly everything about Max is conveyed through action, whether it be frustration, befuddlement, or amusement. It’s a performance reminiscent of the great silent-era comedians, right down to the bulging eyes, and the reliance on hand gestures. Hopefully, we get to see Hardy return to the wasteland soon.
4. “Warrior” (2011)
“Warrior” is such an effective sports drama because it builds up the emotional stakes for both opponents. The opponents are estranged brothers, and throughout the film, we learn that both men have been beaten down by life. Brendan (Joel Edgerton), the eldest, is a teacher who resorts to MMA fighting as a means of providing for his family. Tommy (Hardy), the youngest, is an ex-Marine who fights to relieve his aggression. We understand them, and we understand why both of them need to win.
There’s a shared trauma that the actors bring to their performances, making them feel connected even when they’re apart. Tommy registers as more meat-headed of the Conlon brothers, between the aloofness and the violent outbursts, but Hardy never short-changes him. He plays him with tenderness and deep-seated compassion. The scene where Tommy comforts his alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) is among the most powerful of the actor’s career.
3. “The Revenant” (2015)
“The Revenant” is a primal experience, a battle of wills between a man who was left for dead and the man who left him. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the former, and Hardy, sporting a matted beard and a Texas accent, plays the latter. Their time together is limited, but their presence lingers over each other’s scenes, pushing them to brace harsh Alaskan winter. In a neat reversal of their screen personas, the motor-mouthed DiCaprio is pained and silent, while the brooding Hardy is given pages of dialogue to spew between mouthfuls of squirrel.
Hardy dishes out one killer moment after another. The scene where he recollects his partial scalping is chilling as the Alaskan snow, and the nighttime rant about his father and religion depicts a man slowly coming apart in the face of retribution. The film earned him his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and rightfully so, as he nearly steals the show from his high-profile co-star.
2. “Bronson” (2008)
When it comes to eccentrics, there’s “Bronson,” and then there’s the rest of Hardy’s career. Bronson, aka Michael Peterson, was considered to be Britain’s most violent criminal during the 1970s and ‘80s, and Hardy plays him with such manic intensity that it feels as though he traded souls with the man. The real-life Bronson later said that Hardy was more like him than he was, which is such an absurd quote that it should have been included on the film’s poster.
Hardy and director Nicolas Winding Refn play up Bronson’s self-destructive tendencies without delving into the cause, and the decision proves to be an inspired one. The fact that he fights guards and takes hostages without a sliver of purpose makes him all the more fascinating, like a rabid dog chasing a car. Hardy gives his bravest performance to date, bearing his soul (and in some scenes, his body) in the pursuit of madness. We’d say he achieved it.
1. “Locke” (2013)
“Locke” takes place in a single-vehicle, and spans the duration of a two-hour drive. Hardy plays the titular character, who’s forced to juggle the various aspects of his life over the phone, for fear that they may not be the same once he arrives at his destination. The stakes are low in comparison to Hardy’s other films, but writer-director Steven Knight creates such a tense environment that the mishandling of a concrete job feels tantamount to the end of the world.
Locke isn’t defined by his body language or his actions like so many of Hardy’s characters, but rather his face, and his ability to use his words. It’s the furthest the actor has gone against his screen persona, and it happens to be the performance of his career. We get to see him switch moods in real-time, from loving father and responsible coworker to scoundrel husband and resentful son. Locke repeatedly states that he’s trying to be a good person, but if this film proves anything, it’s that Hardy is a great actor.
What do you think of our list? Have you seen “Capone” yet? If so, where would that performance rank for you? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
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