You and your cadre of in-the-know film-loving buddies may love and revere Tom Hardy.
Hollywood agrees, setting up Hardy’s Next Big Thing status with upcoming movies like “This Means War” and a sure-to-be-showy supporting turn in next summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Most Americans don’t have the faintest clue who Tom Hardy actually is.
Yes, he’s the guy from “Inception” who isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio, who wasn’t on “Third Rock From the Sun,” who wasn’t a villain in “Batman Begins” and who wasn’t the girl from “Juno.” That’s a thin layer of recognition, but it’s nebulous.
For a few minutes, it looked like “Warrior” might be Hardy’s breakout. Word out of early screenings was rapturous and a small circle of critics was briefly convinced that if “The Fighter” could earn Oscars and blockbuster status last year, the time might be perfect for a blue collar MMA “Rocky.” Perhaps the decision to position “Warrior” for credibility, rather than visceral thrills led to a box office take somewhat short of what “The Smurfs” pulled in by the end of its first afternoon.
But if you missed Hardy’s spectacularly creepy performance in “Meadowlands” (or “Cape Wrath,” as it was called before Showtime decided American audiences couldn’t handle such an awesome title), or his spectacularly psychotic performance in “Bronson,” or his memorable, but spectacularly brief, performance in “RocknRolla,” you haven’t run out of chances to be the last person on your block to “discover” Tom Hardy.
If you can wait a couple more weeks, Hardy has one of the showier supporting performances in Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” an evocative slow-burn adaptation of the John Le Carre espionage classic. But it’s a good enough movie and its cast is ridiculously deep enough that Hardy only registers as an afterthought.
Perhaps that’s why Encore has scheduled the American premiere of the British miniseries “The Take” for this month: “The Take” is offers the fully immersive Tom Hardy experience. It takes less than four hours to watch the entire series and when it’s over, there’s really no way to talk about anything or anybody other than Hardy. I don’t think that speaks particularly well for “The Take” as an overall television experience, but if you’ve looked at Hardy and had “What’s the big deal?” doubt — meaning you definitely haven’t seen “Bronson” — this should clear things up.
A few words on “The Take,” which premiered on British TV back in 2009, after the break…
Based on the novel by Martina Cole, “The Take” is a kitchen sink, decade-spanning British crime saga that leaves very few cliched stones unturned.
It’s 1984 and low-level wannabe gangster Freddie (Hardy) gets out of prison after a short bid, having befriended incarcerated crime boss Ozzy (Brian Cox). Freddie returns to a large, shady family that includes smart-but-unambitious cousin Jimmy (Shaun Evans), straight-out-of-“The Sopranos” wife Jackie (Kierston Wareing), a couple of kids and his dysfunctional parents.
Some people leave the hoosegow determined to set things straight, but Freddie gets sprung determined to ascend the criminal ladder, bringing Jimmy with him. A tawdry saga of violence, drugs and kvetching ensue, as Freddie’s woefully unsuited for power and his family proves to be as much of a millstone as his personal demons.
Directed by David Drury (“Ashes to Ashes”), “The Take” sets the family melodrama and the harsh crime world at the same volume and that volume is extremely high.
Cribbing unapologetically from “The Godfather,” “Scarface” and a legion of gritty British ancestors, the miniseries can’t resist any opportunity to parallel generational conflicts in the most thuddingly obvious ways possible. With Jimmy and Freddie as surrogate brothers and later fathers to their respective sons and with Ozzy and Freddie’s real father also looming, Drury is almost inexhaustibly able to cross-cut between life events and crime events. It’s not just that there’s nothing that happens in “The Take” that you haven’t seen in a better movie or TV series in the past, it’s that there’s nothing that happens that you can’t predict three or four scenes in advance (or hours in advance).
At least you can’t accuse “The Take” of cutting corners in its unpleasantness. We’re only minutes into the series before a thug gets his head bashed through a TV screen and the subsequent episodes are filled with throat cuttings, rapes and more. By the end of the third episode, the series has gone a place dark enough that more than a few viewers will probably tune out entirely, but those remaining will at least be pleased the commitment.
Hardy’s performance typifies all that is both good and problematic about “The Take.” This is not a performance that goes from zero-to-60, but rather starts at 90 and perhaps goes to 110. Neil Biswas’ script offers very little build-up time for Freddie, establishing his psychotic bona fides within minutes and then pushing him deeper and deeper and deeper into a spiral. Hardy inhabits the character completely, but he hasn’t been offered enough plausible shadings to make Freddie believable in this world. Even before the cocaine and the booze and the paranoia, Freddie’s established as an unpredictable loose cannon in a world in which any sign of weakness or failure in leadership leads to an instant whacking. In a well-structured movie, a character like Freddie can go down the drain over 100 minutes and the journey makes sense, but by the end of the second hour of “The Take,” I no longer found it believable that Ozzy or the predictably ascendant Jimmy would or could let Freddie live and yet the story zips through the years (without ever aging any of the actors).
While Hardy is never unconvincing, this miniseries proves to be a lot of his familiar slouching, marble-mouthed, louche, Brando-inspired mannerisms over a very short period of time (I watched in one night, but even over four weeks, it may have the same impact). There’s a palpable danger that Hardy provides almost effortlessly, but I’m already recognizing that that animalistic danger needs to be cut with something that’s recognizably human. Nicolas Winding Refn and Hardy kept a vein of demented humor running through “Bronson” that turned the main character into a charming lunatic. Part of why “Warrior” worked as well as it did was because Gavin O’Connor’s natural tendency toward sentimentality was frequently able to cut through Hardy’s admirably internalized rage.
On “The Take,” neither Drury nor Hardy has enough to work with when Freddie’s tortured depths are plumbed. The series never wants you to have sympathy for him, but there are moments that plead for understanding, only to fail. You can feel Hardy and his mad energy desperately pushing “The Take” along, but you can hear the gears grinding.
Shaun Evans’ Jimmy is actually the only character to have an arc, but it’s been scripted too blandly for Evans to hope to compete with Hardy for the camera’s attention. Evans sells that Jimmy is a different guy in Hour Four than in Hour One, but that’s not the same as making viewers care.
Brian Cox makes the most of his scattered scenes, but probably needed to be around more. But making Cox’s character more prominent would have taken time away from the story’s female characters and “The Take” already can’t sell the late transition that decides that Jimmy and Freddie’s wives (Wareing is too broad, but Charlotte Riley is very solid) are the key to the miniseries. [I didn’t love David Michod’s “Animal Kingdom” as much as some critics did, but the 2010 release accomplishes many of the same family/crime intersections with a good deal more success, in no small part due to Jacki Weaver.]
Hollywood hasn’t conjured the idea that Tom Hardy is a movie star from whole cloth. He’s been an actor to watch for several years now and “The Take” offers a fine illustration of what he’s capable of doing with a big character, four hours to play around and little else.
“The Take” premieres on Encore on Friday (Dec. 2) at 9 p.m. and continues over the three subsequent Fridays.