Stuart: A Life Backwards Plays to Tom Hardy?s Strengths

By Eleanor Laurence

There?s a particular joy in stumbling across the early, lesser-known work of Hollywood headliners. The performances feel raw and rough around the edges. Before the polishing power of celebrity grips them, the actors? one-time ?unknownness? makes you, the viewer, watch with unknowing eyes. You have the full knowledge of the accolades and awards that will later come their way, but for the time being, all you see is the early origins of people striving to reach their full potential.

Stuart: A Life Backwards, directed by David Attwood, offers two such performances, with Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch playing opposite each other. Its focus is the bond between writer Alexander Masters (Cumberbatch) and transient criminal Stuart (Hardy). Both actors had credits under their belts (including HBO?s Band of Brothers for Hardy), but by no means had they achieved their current level of A-list stardom. And this is part of the movie?s charm: It?s refreshing to see Hardy and Cumberbatch play roles that don?t presume their heartthrob status. Stuart: A Life Backwards is not about attractive things, just a beautiful friendship.

Stuart is tormented by past abuse, and the sequences where memories overwhelm him are hard to watch, as he self-inflicts new wounds. The role plays to Hardy?s strengths ? contorting physicality and a healthy dose of mumbling-unintelligibility, his emotions running wild behind his eyes. Cumberbatch?s Alexander is the rational, well-educated foil to Stuart, the unpredictable autodidact. You see in these characters the types Hardy and Cumberbatch are now better known for, loose cannon, and cool brain respectively.

It?s difficult to peg Stuart: A Life Backwards. To call it sweet and heartwarming feels off, given the movie?s darker currents of violence. But there are strong currents of camaraderie throughout. The story is about two men who, despite their different backgrounds and approaches to living, become reliant on each other. Joyful, sinister, and funny, Cumberbatch and Hardy will leave you crying, and then make you laugh in the next scene. Best prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster.