Tom Hardy's Performance In 'Dunkirk' Is A Reminder Why He's The Finest Actor In The World Today

He can do something almost no one else can

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There are going to be some Dunkirk spoilers, so go and watch it and then come back.

There's a scene towards the end of Dunkirk when Farrier, the Spitfire pilot played so perfectly by Tom Hardy, runs out of fuel.

Alone, thousands of feet above the sea, sand, blood and fury below, Hans Zimmer's hectic score subsides while the camera focuses in on Hardy's profile, illuminated in the dying orange light of the late afternoon.

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Having spent the duration of the film guarding the bleak skies of northern France from the dreaded whine of Messerschmitts, Farrier must now contend with the very real scenario of his plane dropping from the air - despite his own battle being won - thanks to a broken fuel gauge suffered in an earlier dogfight.

Remorse, fear, adrenaline, valour, resignation and pure exhaustion all flash across Hardy's face in the couple of minutes that it takes centre stage. His eyes shift to the left beneath a furrowed brow. He paws at his flight mask, unlatches it — exhales. His gaze averts to the horizon and then to the glint of the grey sea below. After 120 minutes of chaos, Dunkirk's most poignant moment is wordless and as simple as the flash of unvarnished expression across a man's face.

But this is Tom Hardy's face we're talking about here. Not any old face.

Christopher Nolan, someone who knows the actor's talents more intimately than practically anyone, having directed him in The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Dunkirk, explains it best.

"What he [Hardy] does with single eye acting is far beyond what anyone else can do with their whole body, that is just the unique talent of the man, he's extraordinary."

For those who've followed Hardy's career (and face) somewhat closely, the subtle, essentially silent triumph of his latest role is unsurprising; he's being doing it ever since he shone behind a psychopathic moustache in Bronson. Coming alive when he has something to hide and more to reveal.

Since that 2008 breakout, he's concealed himself beneath an iron mask (The Dark Knight Rises), a steel mask (Mad Max: Fury Road) and a giant prospector's beard (The Revenant, in which he was much better than Leo). Even when he does have his face on show, Hardy's finest performances are when he gives the audience just as much as he sees fit - which is to say, ostensibly not very much at all. He prefers to communicate through wrinkles, grimaces and awkward silences (Locke and The Drop), rather than anything resembling a grand monologue.

Hardy and his face as Bane in 'The Dark Knight Rises', 2012

Sure, there are others. Jake Gyllenhaal does a great morose, vacant stare and Ryan Gosling has that coy smirk thing down to a fine art. More recently, Mahershala Ali's eyes and cheekbones sung a tale of regret and compassion on their own in Moonlight. But there's no actor working today who comes close to being able to utilise the 43 muscles of the face (we looked it up) better than Hardy.

In an interview with Vulture in 2016, it was Hardy himself who provided perhaps the best description of his method. "I have to find an identifier," he said, "a silhouette which immediately radiates something for me.

"Remember, you won't necessarily know by their clothes that someone is a king. You can walk on in a disheveled homeless man's outfit, but there's something about them that radiates a nobility, something that makes you go, this person's a king."