Tag Archives: Tom Hardy

Starred Up (2014)

Starred Up played this week at the tail end of the Fall Focus presented by Independent Film Festival Boston. Though technically a 2013 release, the British prison drama has yet to really come out stateside and remains very much a movie of interest. Part of this is due to the recent emergence of Jack O’Connell on the international stage – he carried the little-seen ’71 and will carry the likely-to-be-widely-seen Unbroken, and he’s even in the Oscar conversation for the latter. O’Connell’s been in a bunch of stuff prior to the last few years, and his young role in the comparatively weak Michael Fassbender film Eden Lake probably foreshadows what’s to come most effectively. But if you want top-notch O’Connell in a nearly-top-notch film, Starred Up is the one to check out.

The prison genre is a storied one in film. Starred Up is a very different movie than Bronson – one of the most brilliant entries in the genre in recent memory – but it still recalls the 2008 Tom Hardy flick a little too heavily at times. This might be an inescapable element of the genre – it’s a prison movie, what did you expect? – but it might also be because O’Connell’s Eric Love simply seems to want the incredible amount of violence swirling around his little stone cell. Bronson and Love seem to share that from the outset – there is a scene in both films in which guards pile up outside the cell door in full riot gear as the gleeful prisoner, be it the hulking Bronson or the roguish Love, douses himself in oil and and prepares for the fight. The fight seems ritualistic, and for Bronson it certainly is. It’s sport. But this is where Starred Up and Eric Love diverge, and while it’s not necessarily a better film it’s certainly a more grounded, realistic genre entry.

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The Drop (2014)

The Drop is a film borne along by performances rather than by story or visual gusto or sharp dialogue or anything else. The late James Gandolfini gives a very James Gandolfini-like turn as mobster-minded Cousin Marv, which is to say that he’s still an immensely enjoyable actor even in a typecast role. Tom Hardy stars as Bob Saginowski, bartender at Marv’s place and occasional collaborator in things less legal. Marv’s place is a drop bar, where mafiosos and mafioso wannabes from across Brooklyn launder their dirty money on any given night. The Drop starts with a robbery of the bar, which leads to complications for Bob’s otherwise straightforward life.

Watching The Drop certainly isn’t akin to watching paint dry, but for the first couple acts it’s pretty close to watching Tom Hardy watch paint dry. Bob finds a battered puppy whimpering from a trashcan outside a house near the bar and – oh, gee – damn near immediately starts a relationship with the girl who lives there (played by Noomi Rapace). A few double crosses later and the dog turns out to be one of the links in the robbery case, because of course it is. This predictability continues through to the very end when Bob is revealed to be a lot less timid than he appears, because of course he is.

Hardy, as usual, is commanding. So Bob’s character is predictable, yes, predictably one of those potential secret-holding phantom menaces from movies like A History of Violence, but it works in The Drop‘s favor that Hardy plays that type of character so well. He’s more fascinating as the simmering powderkeg than as the explosion, more spellbinding as the lion in the cage, which is exactly what Bob appears to be and indeed does end up being at the end. Granted, Hardy is phenomenal when playing characters that are fully unleashed (as in Bronson) and fully restrained (as in Locke), but Bob Saginowski isn’t written anywhere near as well as Hardy’s most memorable characters. It’s Hardy holding the screen, not Bob.

Gandolfini, likewise, is playing a snapshot of Tony Soprano but playing it well. Dennis Lehane has written some great crime novels that have been translated to successful films like Mystic River, and The Drop certainly has his streetwise vibe about it. He fails to do anything besides check the major boxes, though, and it’s the actors who have to make up for the inevitable sluggishness one experiences when retrodding familiar material.

The Drop is worth watching if you’re sick of your Netflix queue, if you’re bored on a transnational flight, or if you just enjoy Hardy and/or Gandolfini. There’s little doubt that you will enjoy them here, but past that The Drop is hard pressed to offer anything else.

Locke (2013)

The past few years have seen no shortage of films structured entirely around a sole character. 2009 had Moon, 2010 had 127 Hours and Buried, and the past year alone had two Oscar nominees in Gravity and All Is Lost. Each of these films hangs entirely on the neck of one actor or actress, usually with some help from the voices of unseen characters or a well-placed flashback. Gravity was helped along by the simple fact that it has what may be the greatest special effects of any space movie ever. Also: George Clooney.

Locke doesn’t have George Clooney. In fact, Locke doesn’t have the set-up that you might come to expect from a one-man show: no outer space VFX or otherwise stark settings, no survival story in a desert or on a boat or six feet under. All Locke has is a car, a bluetooth phone, and Tom Hardy in the central role of construction foreman Ivan Locke. Despite (or because of) the bare-bones constituency at work here, Locke is still easily as engaging as any of the aforementioned predecessors.

When Ivan Locke gets in the car and takes off on a two-hour drive to London, he has a list of calls to make and things to accomplish along the way. These items include breaking the news to his wife that he cheated on her and is en route to the birth of his child by another woman; fielding distressed calls from said woman as she endures complications in labor; training an underqualified drunk to complete the gargantuan tasks his foreman position requires while he absconds; and explaining his sudden absence to his children, his boss, his boss’s bosses, and pretty much everyone else he happens to know. His singular goal, you may have guessed, is to not have all of this go to shit.

Importantly, Locke himself is an extremely well-drawn character. Writer and director Steven Knight sits behind the camera for the first time with Locke, but his writing credentials include Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things. While Ivan could have easily just been a regular nobody in a car enduring the consequences of his mistake, we’re instead treated to a man who preaches precision, practicality, logic, reason. He’s an intelligent and levelheaded worker well aware of his own faults in the situation – the question is whether his mantra of exactness will create an exit to his predicament or force him deeper into the hole.

By portraying Ivan’s work life and his family life as two very distinct parts of the same character, Knight and Hardy answer that question twice. Yes, he loses his job – but the project he abandoned still has legs due to his careful steering of the players involved after his departure earlier in the evening. The proper trucks will enter the proper gates and pour the proper amount of the proper kind of concrete into the proper place, and all will be well.

A family and a home are a tad more complicated. Again, Ivan is a man who consistently speaks (and thinks) in the most accurate terms possible – he corrects his employee at the mention of 200 trucks (“218 trucks”) and his boss at the mention of his position of the past ten years (“nine years”). Later, as his wife comes to terms with the fact that Ivan has been unfaithful to her, she can only find one response to his insistence that it only happened one time: “The difference between once and never is everything.” Ivan, trapped in his ways, can only concede the point with silence.

Steven Knight is a writer to watch after Locke, as the details are more carefully attended to in this tight screenplay than any other in recent memory. Even Ivan’s last name “Locke” and his work associations with cement and concrete play into the themes of being steadfast, solid, immovable in the face of tough odds. It goes without saying that Tom Hardy more than pulls his weight in this film, and he continues to be an absolute force in the acting world – I’ll look forward to everything he does next, and to rewatching Locke in the future.