Like Wrigley’s “Double your pleasure! Double your fun!” gum, this weekend’s movie Legend is two Tom Hardys in one. He plays the dual roles of Britain’s most notorious gangsters, Ronnie and Reginald Kray, identical twins and violent thugs who ruled London’s underworld during the 1950s and 1960s.
Previously real-life siblings Martin and Gary Kemp of ’80s new wave band Spandau Ballet impersonated the brothers in the 1990 film The Krays, but these days special effects allow Hardy to play both brothers. “The movie’s a testament to the Krays’ ability to get away with everything, for a while, anyway,” wrote Ty Burr in the Boston Globe. “But it’s better evidence of Tom Hardy’s ability to do just about anything.”
Already this year we’ve seen the talented actor in the Mad Max reboot Fury Road, the musical London Road and the crime thriller Child 44. Soon he’ll play opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant and is currently shooting Taboo, a new BBC mini series scheduled to air next year.
He’s also made waves as The Dark Knight Rises’ brooding hulk Bane and dream-dancer Eames in the megahit Inception.
In between these box office busters he’s appeared in smaller, edgier films that deserve a look. Here are some of the other films that have helped Tom Hardy become legend.
Lawless takes place during Prohibition. The bootlegging business is booming, run by hillbillies who’ll sell to anyone with a buck and a thirst. The most notorious are the Bondurant family; headed by Forrest (Hardy) who engages in a knock down, drag out moonshine war with a corrupt lawman played by Guy Pearce. Hardy leads the cast as a soft-spoken thug with a brainy bent. “It’s not the violence that sets men apart,” he says, “it is the distance he is prepared to go.”
When he isn’t waxing philosophical he’s busy earning most of the film’s few laughs. It’s a natural, unaffected performance that really shows what he can do without a mask strapped to his face.
In these days of maximalist moviemaking Locke goes the opposite way, trimming the movie down to one claustrophobic setting and a single on-screen actor. Locke is the first movie in recent memory that would probably work as well as a radio drama as it does a film. Hardy is Ivan Locke, a straight arrow construction foreman determined to be at the birth of his child. In his car, he’s battling traffic for the hour-and-a-half drive to London and the mother-to-be’s hospital. Trouble is, the child is the result of a lonely one-night stand and he’s a married man.
The entire film takes place in the front seat of Locke’s car, in real time, as he drives the M1. We see through the windshield, into the backseat and the display screen of car phone and GPS. Most of all we see Hardy’s face, which, even though obscured by a beard, still allows his charisma to ooze through. His face is the engine of the film, his talent the driver.
In the Drop, Hardy he plays Bob Saginowski, a mild mannered bartender at a Brooklyn neighbourhood pub owned by the Chechnyan mafia. Like many of the borough’s bars, Marv’s is sometimes used as a “drop,” a place where gangsters secretly hide money until it is collected by their crime bosses.
As Bob, Hardy is a cypher; kind to dogs, shy and lovesick, he is an average neighbourhood guy. Except in this neighbourhood average guys have pasts, and Hardy does a nice job of playing a man who is trying to move on while the past tries to stop him in his tracks.
It is ironic that Mitt Romney’s former company Bain shares a pronunciation but not a spelling with the villain in “The Dark Knight Rises.” I say ironic because in the film it is Batman and not the burly bad guy who takes on the Occupy movement.
Eight movie years have passed since Batman (Christian Bale) last donned the cape. He’s become a recluse, having assumed responsibility for District Attorney Harvey Dent’s crimes in the hopes that if the Dent anti-crime act worked Gotham would become a peaceful city. It was successful until a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) put into motion a series of events that would draw the caped Crusader from retirement to fight his mightiest foe yet, Bane (Tom Hardy). In a battle that will no doubt delight and confound Occupy veterans, Wall Streeters are gunned down and a billionaire strives to take back the streets from the 1%.
It’s a story that seems like it played out in real life on our streets, albeit without capes, gadgets and murderous villains. When Seline purrs “You’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us,” into Bruce Wayne’s ear, it sounds ripped from the headlines. Such is the timeliness of the film, but let’s not forget that this is a summer blockbuster, not a treatise on the haves and the have-nots.
It aspires to deeper meaning, to be “A Tale of Two Cities” with a cowl, and there’s lots of talk of “restoring the balance of civilization,” but it is also a very entertaining action movie. The first seven minutes is as wild a scene as has ever been captured by IMAX cameras and there’s no shortage of colorful characters.
Bale grimaces and growls with the best of them. As loyal manservant Alfred Michael Caine emotes more than usual for a superhero movie, Morgan Freeman is an oasis of calm amid the chaos and Gary Oldham is the very model of steely determination as Commissioner Gordon. All well and fine, and the expected complexity of character is on ample display, but it is the new characters that shine.
As the brooding hulk that speaks like a slightly loony Shakespearian villain, Hardy is an imposing presence. Grandiose though he is, Bane lacks the chaotic charm of Heather Ledger’s take on the Joker, but as sadistic scoundrels go, he’s one part modern day terrorist, two parts Attila the Hun.
Anne Hathaway had to overcome the memory of a much-loved performance by Michelle Pfeiffer, but from her first appearance the slate is wiped clean. Charismatic, charming and sexy, she’s dropped Pfeifer’s paw-licking cat mannerisms and instead presents a physical, complex character whose chemistry with Bale burns up the screen.
On the side of law and order is idealistic Gotham cop John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s heavy on the exposition—someone has to explain what’s going on!—but what could have been a throw-a-way role is transformed into a real person in a movie filled with super villains and improbable situations.
Nolan favorite Marion Cotillard brings a feminine touch and some mystery to an already plot heavy and enigmatic story.
Is “The Dark Knight Rises” a perfect summer movie? It’s certainly in the running, but there are a few let downs.
It is a heroic tale and the beautiful IMAX photography creates a larger-than-life feel for the epic-ish story, but it also exposes some missteps in the fight choreography. With the picture blown up to the size of a football field (as opposed to a picture of a blown-up football field, which provides one of the film’s highlights) some of the fighting is just this side of convincing.
Also, despite being the title character The Dark Knight spends relatively little time in the cape. Instead we’re shown more of the inner life of the character. Not a bad thing, but let’s face it, clothes make the man, and the Batsuit is one of the key props in the series.
And the early fear that Bane’s dialogue would be unintelligible isn’t completely unfounded. With his mouth hidden beneath a mask Hardy delivers an effective performance with just his eyes, unfortunately lines like ‘There can be no true despair without hope!” often end up sounding like a baroque but garbled mixture of drunken whispers and baby talk.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is a very accomplished blockbuster. At two-hours-and-forty-four minutes it manages to provide the thrills associated with the genre, but also takes time to create memorable characters.
Sometimes even villains get a second chance. The Dark Knight Rises, the last entry in Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy, digs deep into Caped Crusader lore to reintroduce brawny bad guy Bane.
The abnormally strong antihero first appeared in the comics in 1993 but after a ridiculous appearance in Batman & Robin earned the title as the worst on-screen Batman baddie. As a scrawny convict pumped up by a drug known as Venom he did little except growl and act as the punch line for a bad joke by his creator Dr. Jason Woodrue. “I call this little number Bane,” he says. “Bane of humanity!”
The movie killed the Batman franchise for seven years, and it looked like Bane, played by wrestler Jeep Swenson—Holy haberdashery, Batman who chose his bad lucha libre mask?—would also be relegated to the big Scoundrel Cemetery in the Sky.
Then Nolan cast Tom Hardy, got rid of the ridiculous mask and gave the brute a second chance. So Bane is back and super-evil, but how do other Batman big-screen baddies stack up on the Bat-scale of finest to vilest?
The Bat’s Best:
Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson both played The Joker, Batman’s arch nemesis, but Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning take on the psychotic clown in The Dark Knight is the most menacingly memorable.
Burgess Meredith made The Penguin’s trademark squawking voice popular, but it was Danny DeVito in Batman Returns who really showed what a megalomaniacal monster he really was. “You’re just jealous because I’m a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask.”
Batman has battled plenty of female foes but feline fiend Catwoman is the pick of the litter. Whether it’s Lee Meriwether meowing, “You’re going to see the purr-fect crime, when I get Batman in my claws,” or Michelle Pfeiffer wielding a twelve-foot bullwhip, the creepy kitty is fun enough for nine lifetimes.
The Winged-One’s Worst:
Too many one-liners from Two-Face in Batman Forever left critics unable to turn the other cheek after Tommy Lee Jones’s over-the-top performance.
As played by Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin botanist-turned-eco-terrorist Poison Ivy proved that not even Mother Nature gets it right every time.
If for no other reason than the joke “Ice to see you!” Batman & Robin’s cold-blooded killer Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) makes the worst-of list. The Governator should’ve been sent to the cooler for his line-readings in this one.