Tom Hardy lunges onto megaplex screens this weekend as the super-powerful title character in “Venom.” So we thought it might be a good time to rank the award-winning actor’s Top 10 earlier screen performances, to better appreciate his prodigious talent and impressive versatility.
10. Inception (2010)
In Christopher Nolan’s fantastical sci-fi thriller about a team of dreamweavers hired to break and enter into a businessman’s subconscious, Hardy plays Eames, a master forger and identity thief, with a showboating sense of sartorial splendor and the confident cunning of someone who’s already read the script and knows he’ll awake in good shape.
9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
As the brutish Bane of Batman’s existence, Hardy repeatedly illustrates the accuracy of the adage that actions speak louder (or at least more intelligibly) than words. Just as important, however, he potently underscores in key scenes the similarities between supervillain and cult leader when it comes to controlling underlings and rousing rabbles in the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Caped Crusader triptych.
8. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Hardy’s formidable physicality and unaffected badassery make him a swell choice to take over the title role of the post-apocalyptic adventurer originally played decades earlier by Mel Gibson. Better still, he seals the deal by developing pitch-perfect chemistry with co-star Charlize Theron as the equally awesome Imperator Furiosa for one of the all-time great action-movie teamings.
7. The Revenant (2015)
There’s something perversely exhilarating about a full-tilt, larger-and-meaner-than-life performance by an actor who couldn’t care less about indicating any redeeming qualities while playing a savagely self-serving sociopath. As John Fitzgerald, the brutish frontiersman who abandons bear-mauled fellow trapper Hugh Glass (Leonard DiCaprio) and later attempts to correct his “mistake” after Glass seemingly rises from the dead, Hardy is so rivetingly and irredeemably ferocious that when his character is force-fed just desserts, even folks viewing the movie at home may be tempted to stand up and cheer.
6. Dunkirk (2017)
Reunited with “Dark Knight Rises” director Christopher Nolan, Hardy once again has his voice distorted and his face partly hidden by a mask — in this case, the oxygen mask of a RAF Spitfire bomber pilot on a WWII mission. All of which makes the graceful-under-pressure eloquence of his performance all the more striking as his courageous-under-fire character remains alone in a cockpit and struggling against long odds throughout one of the plot threads entangled in Nolan’s time-tripping scenario.
5. The Drop (2014)
Hardy shrewdly plays his cards close to the vest in Michael R. Roskam’s stripped-to-essentials slow-burn drama (which scripter Dennis Lehane adapted from his own story) about past and present criminal activity in a Boston neighborhood bar. The ambiguous reticence of his performance goes a long way toward keeping the audience on edge while wondering — sometimes optimistically, sometimes fearfully — just what secrets might eventually be revealed by his Bob Saginowsky, a taciturn bartender who’s reflexively protective of a battered woman (Noomi Rapace) and a wounded pit bull, but who also gives off the unmistakable vibe of someone who knows where all the bodies are buried, and is fully capable of doing some fresh planting. Not for the first time, Hardy prompts us to imagine Marlon Brando playing his role — and to admit even Brando probably couldn’t have topped what Hardy did with the part.
4. Bronson (2008)
New York Time critic A.O. Scott wasn’t far off the mark when he liked “Bronson” — Nicolas Winding Refn’s audaciously stylized biopic about an infamously mercurial British criminal who has spent most of the past four decades in some form of solitary confinement — as “a bit like Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ reimagined as a one-man stage show.” Mind you, the movie isn’t literally a solo turn — there are supporting players here and there, some of them quite noteworthy — but Hardy overwhelms all of them with his mesmerizing portrayal of a self-aggrandizing psychopath who behaves, whether in fantasies as a flamboyant stage performer or during real-life hostage situations behind bars, as that most terrifying brand of madman, one who doesn’t care what he has to do, or who he has to manhandle, to obtain the only thing he craves: attention.
3. Legend (2015)
Tom Hardy co-stars with Tom Hardy in Brian Helgeland’s stylish fact-based drama about Reggie and Ron Kray, twin brothers who did indeed establish themselves as living legends during their heyday as gangsters in 1960s London. The beauty part of the dual performance is that, after a while, you stop trying to spot what sort of technical trickery was needed for Hardy to play both men within the same frame, and concentrate on how masterfully he vividly defines each sibling: Ron, a mood-swinging loose cannon who occasionally suggests Hardy’s “Bronson” character adrift somewhere on the autism scale, and Reggie, an appreciably more stable, ambitious, and image-conscious criminal who’s nonetheless willing, when the need arises, to inflict grievous bodily harm.
2. Warrior (2011)
For some critics (including yours truly), Hardy didn’t fully emerge as a force with which to be reckoned until he appeared opposite Joel Edgerton in Gavin O’Connor’s improbably effective and affecting drama about two long-estranged brothers destined to clash as combatants in a mixed martial arts tournament. As I noted in my original Variety review: “Occasionally recalling the bruised and brooding virility of a young Marlon Brando, Hardy is arrestingly intense as Tommy, by turns implosive and explosive as he alternates between guilt and rage, savagery and self-loathing.” But wait, there’s more: He also proved himself perfectly matched with a seldom-better Nick Nolte as the father of the battling brothers.
1. Locke (2013)
Hardy hits the road for a solo flight in writer-director Steven Knight’s deceptively simple and extraordinarily gripping chamber drama — well, OK, make that automobile drama — which follows construction foreman Ivan Locke during a late-night drive from Birmingham to London. As we travel with him on a journey far from the immediate demands at his work site, and even further from his impatient wife and children, we only gradually realize that Locke is motivated by a desperate desire to “do the right thing” at the worst possible time, a motivation that likely is inspired by a lifetime of recalling a singularly bad example. Hardy is the only person we ever see on screen — the supporting players are merely voices on his speakerphone — and his meticulously detailed, remarkably multifaceted performance (which earned him a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award) easily transforms us into his totally transfixed traveling companions.