A small-scale 2009 British crime drama picked up as original programming for Encore, “The Take” offers the simple pleasure of Tom Hardy at his brutish, glowering best. Released from prison in the opening moments, his thuggish Freddie Jackson is so feral and simian as to recall Paul Muni in the original “Scarface,” setting up an awkward and eventually adversarial relationship with his more cerebral cousin, also well played by Shaun Evans. “The Take” is mob light, perhaps, but still unfolds in a manner that deftly pulls you through each of its four hourlong chapters.
Hardy’s Freddie is hardly a deep thinker. Instead, he’s prone to settling disputes with a broken bottle and asking questions later.
Cousin Jimmy (Evans) — who becomes his unlikely sidekick — hardly seems to be his match. Not only does he rely on his wits, but he even has a lovely girlfriend, Maggie (Charlotte Riley), who humanizes him — and doesn’t trust Freddie. Yet with mob boss Ozzy (the always-splendid Brian Cox) behind bars, the two are left to manage his dirty dealings, despite the growing tension between them. And without giving too much away, alliances shift in unpredictable ways over a period covering 10 years.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the story, by Neil Biswas (adapted from Martina Cole’s novel) and directed by David Drury incorporates enough violence and tragedy to sustain a strong sense of menace — at least, until the final hour, where the payoff doesn’t quite equal the buildup.
Most of the drama naturally stems from the mercurial Freddie, a character Hardy — whose resume includes a terrific “Wuthering Heights” remake, before entering director Christopher Nolan’s orbit via “Inception” and the upcoming Batman sequel — turns into a seething, volatile presence. He’s the kind of functioning psychopath who can go off at a moment’s notice, and makes what otherwise could be a rather tired crime drama eminently watchable and suspenseful.
Although some of the cultural aspects of Britain in the go-go ’80s might not resonate with a U.S. audience, for Encore, the acquisition nevertheless qualifies as a no-brainer — offering pay-TV grit on the cheap.
In the process, the takeaway from “The Take” again proves an old showbiz saw: Cast the right actor as a mobster, and being bad can be pretty damn good.