The remake/reboot thing is happening with Mad Max as “Fury Road” heads ever closer to post-production. Tom Hardy looks suitably grubby and dishevelled in the title role and no doubt we can count on his considerable charisma to elevate this above the current state of play of underwhelming reboots and remakes (Total Recall, we’re looking at you). May 2015 for release feels a little alarming, raising the ominous spectre of “troubled production”, but if Mad Max can even just prove to be the sum of its considerable parts, it should do just fine.
All of which brings us to the subject of Tom Hardy and what he brings to this intriguing reboot. Is he as good as the title of this article suggests?
These sorts of hyperbolic titles get thrown around all of the time and it tends to induce eye-rolling as much as anything else, much like our innate response to lines in films like, “I was born for this”, or “I’m your worst nightmare”. When The Score came out, everyone got very excited about three consecutive “best of their generation” actors all appearing together. Yet Brando was a shuffling, mumbling shell of his former self, Norton is really struggling to come good on his early potential and De Niro is only very recently returning to anything like the sort of work that brought him so much (justified) acclaim in the seventies and eighties.
Not only is it exceedingly difficult to make a case for “best of their generation” in such a varied and crowded market place, but actors can also either go off the boil suddenly, or eventually drop below their previously high standards to the point where previous adornments of praise feel either premature or foolish.
So to what end is this article conceived? If the title is contentious and the recipient as likely as anyone to lose his crown, why bestow on him? Put simply, in a very short space of time, Hardy has demonstrated an astonishingly versatile ability, coupled with an almost incomparably magnetic and compelling screen presence. If his ability to physically bulk up helps with convincing as an MMA fighter, Batman villain or imprisoned psychopath in a way someone like Leonardo DiCaprio might not be able to, nonetheless it is hard to think of a contemporary of Hardy’s who could go toe to toe with Patrick Stewart in his big screen debut. Nor anchor the stylised trappings of Bronson to deliver a plausible character out of the iconography of a monster and then stand out from crowds as talented as those in Inception and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
And after all of that we have an astonishingly subtle but physically imposing performance in Warrior, an often-spoofed but nevertheless impressive mask-clad Bane and most recently a one-man, one-location drama wherein Hardy had literally nowhere to hide. He had to deliver or the entire project would have collapsed about him.
Hardy’s willingness to be absorbed into his role and for his own persona to disappear from sight is key to his success. Vanity is a terrible thing and would have been the ruin of Hardy’s iteration of Bane, wherein instead we had his voice, face and body transformed beyond recognition. We see him without his mask only once and only then in flashback, as an essential component of a key plot development.
Compare the acting styles and performances between (say) Warrior and Bronson. His physique is very similar across the two roles, however where Tommy Conlon is hunched, prowling, sullen, Bronson is eccentric, theatrical, larger than life. They really are entirely unlike each other and for that matter, unlike anyone else on Hardy’s CV – there is no Hardy “type” to identify.
Accents can be a tough nut to crack too. It is very easy for us Brits to get very pompous about how good our actors seem to be at wrapping their mouths around US-accents (Hopkins, Day-Lewis, Roth, McAvoy, Oldman et al) and how comparatively poor their US counterparts have proven to be at making the reverse journey across the North Atlantic (Forrest Whitaker in The Crying Game, Heather Graham in From Hell and Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven most readily spring to mind), however the truth is that a solid ear for accents and the ability to consistently deliver them is really rare.
Hardy sticks relatively close to his own accent in Inception (although he is undeniably more distinct and plummy as Eames), but departs radically for Bronson, Warrior, Locke, TDKR andThe Drop. But none of the “actorly” accent affectations are there, instead each of these distinct voices sound organic, authentic and (most importantly) effortless.
So, to whom might we compare Hardy? Any title like the one at the head of this article must inevitably invite the “what about…..?” question. Hardy’s “generation” is a little hard to pin down but his contemporaries would tend to include Christian Bale, Leo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, maybe Ed Norton, Adrian Brody, James Franco, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Ewan McGregor. That’s a pretty impressive roll call and formidable opponents in any “best of…” contest.
Leaving to one side the obvious point that these matters are in the eye of the beholder, can and does Hardy hold his own in such esteemed company? Perhaps the best way to answer that is to imagine Hardy in each of their best roles and then imagine them in his. Admittedly, where sheer physicality is a factor the comparison might seem unfair – Joseph Gordon-Levitt would never pass for Bane or Bronson – but where Di Caprio would have stuck out like a sore thumb in TTSS, Hardy is far easy to imagine slipping effortlessly into The Departed, or The Aviator, or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
Bale is too affectatious, Gordon-Levitt not sufficiently versatile, Norton has gone off the boil and Brody, Franco and McGregor have collectively failed to make good on the promise of their strongest work. That leaves Fassbender and McAvoy, of whom the former is likely the stiffest competition for the title. Having moved (like Hardy) effortlessly between prestige and more populist fare without any dilution of quality or distinctiveness, Fassbender is as likely as Hardy to go down in the record books as one of the pre-eminent performers of this period of film history – a super-abundance of nominations and awards surely awaits them both.
In the end, when it comes down to a coin-toss, you know you have someone special in front of you. Tom Hardy hasn’t commissioned this as a fluff-piece and will likely never see it. And of course you don’t have to agree. You might dismiss him as average, over-rated, middle-tier. To each their own. For our money, he genuinely is a force of nature – a versatile, focussed, fearless, courageous talent whose future is indeed bright.