Monday, February 13, 2012

'The Take' (2009)

Starring Tom Hardy, Shaun Evans and Brian Cox
Written by Neil Biswas
Directed by David Drury
Rated TV-MA - Violence, language, drinking, drugs, sex, rape, mature themes
Running Time: 176 minutes

It's become increasingly obvious that Tom Hardy is really, really good at playing truly screwed up individuals.  Whether it's a broken former Marine turned MMA fighter or the flawed clone of a heroic starship captain, regardless of the genre, Hardy is capable of grabbing hold of the role of a man with deep, deep psychological problems and making sure that we can't take our eyes off of him.

Freddie Jackson (Tom Hardy) has just been released from prison after doing a stint for a botched robbery job.  In the joint, he established a good rapport with Ozzy (Brian Cox) the man who runs everything, and Jimmy seizes the opportunity to make a name for himself with Ozzy's crew.  He drags along his best friend and younger cousin, Jimmy (Shaun Evans), who also makes an impression on Ozzy.  Soon enough, the two are rising through the ranks of Ozzy's organization.

But the truth eventually becomes known: Freddie is an uncontrollable sociopath.  Jimmy, the one with brains, tries to rein him in, but that proves increasingly impossible.  Freddie's wife, Jackie (Kiersten Wareing) turns to alcohol and pill-popping in her depression for loving Freddie so much, even as she recognizes that he's a monster.  Jimmy's wife, Maggie (Charlotte Riley), also recognizes that Freddie is a monster, and tries desperately not to fall into the same abyss as Jackie.

As the years pass, Jimmy becomes more prominent in the organization, and the order comes down to squeeze Freddie out.  But Freddie isn't about to take that betrayal lying down.

"The Take" is a four-hour British TV mini-series based on the novel of the same name by Martina Cole.  I haven't read the novel, so I can't compare how close the TV version hews to it, but I found the TV version to be riveting through and through.  It stumbles a bit in the writing, especially towards the end, when some of the dialogue starts to feel rote and cliche, but the performances of the cast never falter.

Tom Hardy once again takes the spotlight as the seriously deranged Freddie Jackson.  The series is careful to make sure we know that Freddie is a scumbag, but occasionally manages to throw us a bone so that we almost feel bad for him.  He's a man capable of doing terrible, horrific things to other people (and I don't just mean physical violence) and then going home and tucking in his kids and giving them a loving kiss on the forehead.  But make no bones about it, Freddie is not just a gangster, but a thug, a rapist, a junkie, and a schemer.  At times, he displays a sick sense of nobility, however.  In the first episode, when his father humiliates his mother in public, Freddie is quick to seek revenge.  But the manner in which he does so is so twisted, it'll leave you squirming in your seat.

Through it all, though, there's Tom Hardy's performance grabbing hold of you.  The man excels at playing people who seem barely in control of themselves, lashing out violently from places of deep pain or resentment.  When he looks at another character, you can see in his face, he's probably fantasizing about doing something terrible to them.  The only problem, of course, is that Freddie is incapable of leaving it just a fantasy.  His resentment as Jimmy begins to overshadow him is palpable, but he's also torn because he and Jimmy have such history together.  The grew up together, best friends more like brothers.

The series takes place over the course of a decade, with the first episode taking place in the early 1980s, then the second episode in the late 80s, and the last two skipping forward to the mid 1990s.  So we get to see the progression of Freddie and Jimmy's careers and relationships. When they start out with Ozzy's organization, it's Freddie who's the golden boy, even though his behavior quickly puts him on shaky ground.

The series features some seriously sick, twisted plot turns.  It quickly becomes apparent that while Freddie is the main character here, he's actually the villain of the piece.  As the episodes progress, the tone becomes darker and darker, at times feeling almost like a horror movie with a sense of impending doom and dread hanging over every scene.  It's especially heavy later on when it becomes obvious that Freddie's son has definitely inherited his father's genes, and as Jimmy finally begins to plan how to take Freddie out.

Only four episodes, the series goes down quick, but is difficult to digest.  The subject matter is extremely mature, with graphic violence, and depictions of rape and torture. And amongst it all, perhaps the ballsiest move the script takes occurs late in the game and turns the story in a different direction than I was expecting it to turn.  This also leads it directly into an understated climax that took me by surprised, and felt a little bit like a let-down.  The episode seemed to be building toward a bit more of a mythic showdown, and then suddenly veers left and has a rather quiet ending.  It all makes sense, but it's quieter and more subdued and doesn't feel quite as cathartic as perhaps the more expected ending would have.

Still, "The Take" serves as another fine display of Tom Hardy's skill at portraying nutjobs.  Though I didn't originally think much of him ten years ago, he's lately becoming one of my favorite performers.

See Also
Star Trek: Nemesis