We tend to think of actors in terms of their overall performance, but the real measuring stick is in the choices they make, be it role to role, scene to scene, or even moment to moment. The divide between good and great lies in those choices. When I think of this rule, the absolute first thing that comes to mind is Tom Hardy‘s choice to play iconic Batman villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises like Mr. Monopoly huffing a can of paint thinner.
That’s just one of the many check marks on the list of reasons why Hardy is the most interesting actor working today. In a technical, academic sense he’s probably not the “best”—off the top of my head I’d probably let Adam Driver and Lupita Nyong’o duke it out for that one—but if you put Tom Hardy’s name on a poster you’re 100% guaranteed a whirling dervish of a performance so committed it’s unsettling. Tom Hardy does not “phone in” performances, he personally crams performances into a shipping container, which is packed aboard a leaking transport vessel, only to emerge 3-4 weeks later sea-mad and unable to form coherent sentences.
Sometimes the role warrants Hardy’s manic delivery, like the case of dong-slinging criminal Charles Bronson in Bronson or the brutal fur trapper John Fitzgerald in The Revenant. But there’s also the profusely-sweating lobster-chomping of Venom, the incomprehensible-to-human-ears rumble of Taboo, or even his Max Rockatansky in Fury Road, an already-iconic character that Hardy updated with the exact voice of a man who has sucked radioactive sand into his windpipe for decades. Even Christopher Nolan, the most shenanigans-adverse filmmaker in Hollywood, couldn’t help strapping a mask over Hardy’s objectively beautiful face in two separate movies.
The point being, Tom Hardy is many things—many, many things—but never in all his days has Tom Hardy been boring on-screen. Every film is just another stop on his ongoing quest to never look, sound, or move like a normal human man. The funniest thing in the world is picturing a director asking Tom Hardy to perform an everyday task. “Just walk through the door, Tom” followed by Tom Hardy front-flipping into the door, shrieking.
The idea of recommending a movie for the Hardy performance, not the movie itself may never be as clear as in the case of his latest, director Josh Trank‘s Capone. Hardy plays infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone at the very end of his rope, living out the last year of his life practically braindead, wandering around a vast Florida mansion screaming at alligators and soiling himself. It’s an intensely weird film, more Twin Peaks than The Untouchables, and much more of a horror movie than you’d expect. Picture The Shining, but replace the ghosts with syphilis and add, at minimum, two scenes in which Jack Torrance shits his pants.
With anyone other than Hardy in the lead, I’d struggle to recommend Capone to a viewer who isn’t already hyped for everything Capone is selling. Even at one hour and 40 minutes, it feels too long, uninterested in doing much besides chart the downward spiral of a man’s mind from a cold, unattached distance. One powerful scene of a disease-ridden Al Capone listening to a radio show about his past exploits as a powerful mob boss is enough to drive home a thesis that’s stretched to its most nauseating point over a full feature film.
But then there’s Hardy. Capone remains fascinating because of the choices Hardy makes from moment-to-moment, turning Al Capone from folk legend into a sentient ham sandwich left out in the sun. I’m not sure how many legitimate recordings exist of Capone’s voice, but I do wonder if the famed criminal sounded like a phlegm monster in an allergy medicinal commercial, as Hardy chooses to play him. After the character suffers a stroke, Hardy doesn’t so much emote his lines as he does let them leak out like a punctured bag of chili. Your eyes remain glued to Capone just to catch a small tic from the actor. A strange turn of the mouth. An off-kilter delivery. Without spoilers, I can confidently say one of the top 5 moments of Capone is the way Tom Hardy says the line “let’s go fishing.”
The most telling moment, though, comes when Capone’s son Junior (Noel Fisher) jokingly suggests to his mother, Mae (Linda Cardellini), that they should make some extra money by putting the addled gangster in the zoo. That’s essentially what the film does, and it only works because you’ve got someone as full-throttle committed as Hardy in the front. Hardy is uniquely magnetic because watching him act in even the most normal roles is like watching a tiger during feeding time, a completely mundane task charged with unpredictability.
Hopefully, that doesn’t end any time soon. Hopefully, Tom Hardy remains committed to amplifying all content to its most pants-shittingly electric degree at all times. Let’s see. Next up on his docket is a film called…Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Our beautiful mad boy is gonna’ be just fine.