Before his breakout role in Bronson, Tom Hardy showed his true potential in a small made for TV film, Stuart A Life Backwards. He co-stared along another relatively unknown at the time, Benedict Cumberbatch (at least outside of Great Britain). These are two huge A-list actors today who have starred as villains in blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness and The Dark Knight Rises among many other great films. So I was immediately attracted to this film when I heard it starred these two actors. It is a biography of a troubled alcoholic and homeless man named Stuart(Tom Hardy) who establishes a friendship with a writer and charity worker named Alexander (Benedict Cumberbatch). We've seen these dramatic films exploring similar issues of unlikely friendships done before, but Stuart gives it a unique twist by telling the story beginning from the back. Because lets face it when we first meet someone like Stuart we are shocked at their current condition and we take little time to try to figure out what may have caused this strange behavior. We see who the person is at the present and by establishing a relationship we slowly begin to uncover things about their past, and that is exactly how Alexander presents Stuart to the audience. Stuart is a rather unconventional character, and Tom Hardy plays him brilliantly. He is an alcoholic who suffers from violent outbreaks. He also has suicide tendencies and suffers from muscular dystrophy which has taken its toll on him. But most of the time Stuart is a kind man with a dry sense of humor. He tells his story in a rather funny way adding a tragicomic touch to this film. Despite the strong performances from Cumberbatch and Hardy the film works mostly because of the way the film is narrated. As we learn more about Stuarts past we begin to sympathize with him and realize where he is coming from. It isn't a great film, but it is solid and it showed the true potential these lead actors had.
The film does feel a bit rushed at times and it suffers from trying to add a lot of information in only 90 minutes, making some scenes feel chopped and forced. Director David Attwood benefits mostly from this emotional true story and these two actors, who happened to be the main attraction for me and the reason why this film is getting some distribution currently on HBO. It isn't a perfect film, but it has a masterful physical performance delivered by Hardy who was just getting warmed up for his upcoming and breakout role in Bronson. I really loved the quirky approach the film took in telling this true story (which was actually based on the successful biography written by Alexander Masters), but it's far from being a perfect and memorable film. The animated scenes that Attwood decided to introduce to tell some parts of the story were a bit disturbing and took me out of the movie at times. But every time I was let down by these scenes, Tom Hardy showed up with another impressive scene and brought me right back in. It is a masterful performance and one that shows his unique talent as an actor. I am also thankful I watched this film with subtitles because sometimes it was difficult to understand what he was mumbling about, but it was still great voice work from his part. Cumberbatch played a more restricted character, but he also has some emotional scenes near the end where he proves he's a talented actor. It is a film worth checking out if you are a fan of these actors.