2008 BRONSON CHARLES BRONSON
Tom seemed a sweet boy, not too tall, occasionally plump, with a big, soft mouth and a slippery voice. He had done drugs, which had ended his first marriage. Then he played Handsome Bob, gay and nasty in “RocknRolla” (2008). But the decisive step of that year was “Bronson”, a celebration of existential crime, as intimidating to other actors as Robert De Niro’s “Raging Bull” in 1980. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, this biopic is a savage reappraisal of our cult of solitary monsters. It is as funny as it is fearsome, and a ground-breaking onslaught. Not such a nice boy?
2009 WUTHERING HEIGHTS HEATHCLIFF
Directed by Coky Giedroyc (who in 2007 had cast Hardy as Bill Sikes in her “Oliver Twist”), this television adaptation may not be Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”. But there is an uninhibited, sexy chemistry as Hardy’s Heathcliff meets the staring eyes of Charlotte Riley’s Cathy. You didn’t really have to be told that the two actors would end up married – it’s rather more that, in 2009, they didn’t seem to need a script or hear “Cut!”. All of which suggests that, despite his inclination towards playing epic criminality, Tom Hardy could still be a great romantic lead.
2012 LAWLESS FORREST BONDURANT
It’s 1931, in moonshine country, with a Nick Cave script from a Matt Bondurant novel, “The Wettest County in the World”. Hardy is bulky, sleepy, funny, dangerous and resilient, working in the territory of Robert Mitchum in “Thunder Road” (1958). John Hillcoat’s rural noir picture is itching for bootleg violence. Hardy revels in the moody backwoods smoke, and in working with his idol, Gary Oldman. Innocents assumed Hardy was from the Blue Ridge Virginia hills, not south-west London. Yet he had started out, in 2001, playing American soldiers, in “Band of Brothers” and “Black Hawk Down”.
2012 THE DARK KNIGHT RISES BANE
Although Bane was created for DC Comics in 1993, the character is rooted in myth – consider Grendel, Milton’s Satan and Fritz Lang’s Dr Mabuse as parental figures. But here his brute force and rebelliousness owe a lot to Bronson-like mayhem and Hardy’s sympathy for radical, outcast fighters. Hardy’s Bane has an effacing mask and a florid Caribbean accent, signs of his taste for hiding (where is Max in “Mad Max: Fury Road”?). It’s as if a struggle between dark and light is being played out within this remarkable actor, as bold as he is shy.
2014 LOCKE IVAN LOCKE
This is the quietest, most touching film Hardy has made – a glimpse of introspection muffling outrage. Enclosed in his car for the duration of the film, Ivan Locke may be a more normal victim of solitary confinement than Bronson: a wistful, Welsh construction manager suspended in restraint, regret and inaction. Hedged in by a wife, family and a pregnant lover, by concrete-delivery problems and remorseless schedules, Locke is a hint of how Hardy would play Hamlet, whose greatest test is making up his tender mind.
2014 PEAKY BLINDERS ALFIE SOLOMONS
Hardy’s character is a spell-binding blend of Fagin and a missing Kray triplet (the one who was fun). Devised and written for television by Steven Knight, “Blinders” is rich in 1920s re-creation, busy narrative lines and a feast of old-fashioned melodrama. Hardy is daring to the point of recklessness, but he sometimes feels like an indulged guest soloist collecting another colourful gangster role, threatening to upstage Cillian Murphy even though he does not have a single scene with Charlotte Riley.
2014 THE DROP BOB
In shabby Brooklyn, off the waterfront, Hardy’s barman Bob seems slow on the uptake, gentle and decent enough to adopt an abandoned dog. Written by Dennis Lehane, this film shows Hardy as an inarticulate mumbler bonding with a bull-terrier puppy. So he noodles away in intricate scenes with James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace while building a sly portrait of a lethal lowlife. Few think Bob understands what’s going down, but the smart cop whispers in his ear, “They never see you coming, do they, Bob?”
2015 LEGEND RONALD & REGINALD KRAY
All of London wanted to see “Legend” with Hardy playing both the Kray twins. It was an orgy of glam gangsterism, with the sombre boys often in the same shots. Hardy is as potent as the film’s relish for swinging, gangland London. But are the Krays still interesting, or was this opportunism riding on Hardy’s bankability with out-of-order hard cases? His next movie, “The Revenant”, a frontier revenge story, is likely to be another outing for the big, bold Hardy bother-boy – but in the longer term he may prove as much Alec Guinness as James Cagney.
The Revenant opens in America and Britain on Jan 15th