The James Clayton Column: Tom Hardy, fashion hero

Feature James Clayton 7 Sep 2012 - 07:01

As moonshine-brewing gangster thriller Lawless arrives in the UK, James salutes the sartorial choices of actor Tom Hardy…

What elevates the gangster genre above the rest and ensures its exalted status as the greatest of all cinema genres? Style, mi amico. The gangster film has a certain ineffable kind of classiness that other types of movie can never quite ascertain no matter how cool they are or how hard they try.

Rom-coms may display designer labels and catwalk sass, action or war flicks may explode with machismo and violent verve, and sci-fi may dazzle with futuristic hipness, but all of them pale in comparison to the iconic ultra-cool of the gangster picture.

It’s been so since sharp-dressed hoodlums like James Cagney, Paul Muni and Edward G Robinson scorched the silver screen in the 30s. Those guys did dirty rotten things – shoving melons in their girlfriend’s faces, committing Tommy gun massacres, and so on – but they appeal regardless. In spite of their filthy souls and flagrant disregard for the decency of the law, you know you’d love to be like them and, undoubtedly, look like them.

Our idealised antiheroes may be bad guys when all is said, done and shot through, but they always looked good (except for Fredo Corleone, who dressed like a cheap children’s party entertainer).

If you’ve got the balls and breathing space in your bank account, aspiring to a wardrobe along the lines of the movie mobster model is a very worthy ideal. If you’re going to imitate a film character’s image, it makes more sense to ape the monkey suit stylings of a gangster standing smarter than the more humble schnooks around. You’re also less likely to look like an idiot in cosplay that doesn’t quite cut it, which is liable to happen if you try to dress like Indiana Jones or get Ryan Gosling’s Drive scorpion jacket.

That brings me to the sad state of affairs which is the delay in the release of Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad. I was looking forward to seeing Gosling – one of the coolest men alive and currently operational – in a gangster film, even if he is playing a cop. It’s an unwritten rule that you haven’t made it as an icon of screen cool until you’ve appeared in a mob movie. Gosling, thus, has to hold on a little longer before he can join the likes of Al Pacino, Johnny Depp and Viggo Mortensen in the pantheon of made men.

The good news, though, while I wait for the Gangster Squad, is that Lawless is here to offer up some outlaw action at the multiplex, and with it comes Tom Hardy. Hardy is also one of the hottest actors on the planet, and his portrayal of bootlegger Forrest Bondurant in John Hillcoat’s new movie marks his entry into the aforementioned exclusive clique of icons.

Hardy deserves to be hailed as such not just because he’s an exceptional screen performer, but because he’s so damn cool as well. Mercurial, charismatic and chameleon-like, it’s true that part of the actor’s mystique and mesmeric power comes from his costume choices. He absolutely inhabits each role, and the appearance and sartorial accoutrements are an essential aspect of that.

His cool goes beyond looking suave and handsome in sharp suits (see Inception and This Means War for that). Hardy is a true cinematic fashion hero because he uses clothing and physique effectively as both a statement and extension of character. Surveying his filmography, I’m in awe of the eclectic range of distinct looks he’s rocked with such aplomb, and all of them leave an indelible impression.

Copying or straight-up plagiarising his style will probably lead to you looking like a fool (as stated above) so it’s probably best to simply stand back and admire how Hardy’s physical appearance - both his body and his wardrobe - work so powerfully in relation to the film around him.

Starting with Lawless and the ‘Papa Bear Knitwear Gangster’ look, note how the conventional period dress of a Depression-era trilby-wearing bootlegger is offset by an unconventional cardigan affectation.  This odd accessory highlights how Forrest functions as the most maternal of the Bondurant brothers and, unsurprisingly, serves to mark Hardy out in a stellar cast.

His character’s vital spirit is also emphasised through clothing in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, where Hardy’s Ricki Tarr (the ‘70s Euro-Espionage Maverick’ look) acts as the sole relatable spark of humanity in the coldest of Cold War films. With his dishevelled demeanour, shaggy blonde hair, sheepskin jacket and cords, Tarr is a divergent individual and a refreshing presence in a buttoned-up world of bleak beige repression.

Beneath the bulk, underlying vulnerability is hinted at in the mask worn by Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (the ‘Underground Anarcho Thug-King’ look). Hardy’s villain has to physically compete with the Batman and impress us as the imposing figure of “Gotham’s reckoning”. That mask, the baldness and the boots, combat gear and brawn-covering winter jacket achieve this while a vocal impression of Darth Vader playing Sean Connery adds extra impact.

As troubled Tommy Riordan in Warrior (the ‘Anti-Social Cage-Fighting Pitbull’ look) Hardy has another role where deportment and attire clearly state “back right the hell off ‘cause I can rip the door off a tank”. His ultimate all-round physical performance, however, is easily Bronson (the ‘Vaudeville Lunatic Arthouse Brute’ look) where animal ferocity, appealing charisma, absurd theatricality and utterly terrifying ultraviolence all come together superbly.

Long term incarceration in solitary confinement is no impediment to Bronson’s idiosyncratic spirit, and he exists aloof as a rock star among inmates by, for instance, wearing sunglasses and showcasing his unique charm (or, character, when his behaviour isn’t really ‘charming’). It’s best exemplified in the music hall stage fantasy sequences where Hardy’s unhinged antihero whimsically frolics in a suit and make-up. Even when he’s stripped down, naked and greased getting beaten by prison guards, he’s still got that dashing curled moustachio as an everlasting symbol of his personality and flair.

As for the future, Mad Max: Fury Road promises Hardy in leather biker gear to blaze some dystopian post-apocalyptic outback punk attitude. Then there’s Cicero, in which he’ll be portraying Al Capone, potentially offering the definitive Scarface impersonation and supplanting The Untouchables in the process.

Even if he doesn’t go full method like Robert De Niro and wear the Chicago mob king’s underwear to truly get into the part, I’m expecting a sublime performance of charm and intense brutality that does the compelling character of Capone justice.

The Cicero role will also return Hardy to the gangster genre which, once again, is cinematically the coolest place to be. All these parts serve to cement his status as a cult icon of cool and give him the chance to showcase his acting chops, balls and style. Tom Hardy then, mi amico, is a hero indeed.

As far back as he can remember, James Clayton has wanted to be a gangster, but in truth, he’s more likely to end up as a cheap children’s party entertainer. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.

You can read James' previous column here.

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