Touko Laaksonen was an army officer and diligent brother who had a talent for drawing muscular men in various revealing outfits. Known as Tom of Finland, he was once arrested for his drawings before finding popularity and fame in the United States.
Directed by Dome Karukoski from a screenplay by Aleksi Bardy, Tom of Finland is an interesting dramatic biography of an artist that did things that were dangerous for him and did them on his terms. He got some fame during his lifetime and was thankfully able to enjoy this fame while also using it to go ends. His story shows the situation gay men were in not that long ago in parts of Europe such as Germany and Finland. It also shows how much more freedom they had in the United States. While it was not perfect, the US had more rights from the looks of things and a more open mind when it came to gay art. His story is told here through his eyes and the eyes of people who have helped him. His life if the main focus point, but his struggles were quite common at the time and his public presence helped countless gay men which is shown well here. The film is shot in a manner that is classy, talented, yet still eye-opening. The direction keeps things sober, even in the most flamboyant parts of the film, turning a film that could easily have been exploitative into something that is classy and respectful of its subject and his life.
The cast here is superb. Pekka Strang in particular gives a talented and nuanced performance of a man who had to hide who he really was for a very long time as a means of survival. As his art gets discovered and appreciated, the man comes out of his shell and blossoms in a manner that shows some restraint and carefulness. Strang shows this through his layered performance that shows the evolution of his character well and with thoughtfulness. His performance keeps the viewer glued to the screen to see how this man went from hiding his being to being a major figure in the LGBT world. His performance is fantastic and fascinating to watch. Supporting him in many a scene and having a good character arc is actor Lauri Tilkanen as Veli, his companion, the love of his life, the man he did quite a few things for. Tilkanen gives an interesting performance while letting Strang shine in a move that is logical and makes sense as Strang is the one carrying the film. Also giving an interesting performance, as the woman who has supported Touko Laaksonen throughout his life, his sister Kaija, is actress Jessica Grabowsky who does great work with the part of a woman who is ultimately conflicted between her ideologies, how she was raised, and her love and care for her brother. The cast here all does great work, no one sticking out for any bad reasons, a sign of good direction and casting.
As the film is technically a period piece, the production design was important and the work of Christian Olander, teamed up with art direction by Lotta Bergman, Ricardo Molina, Astrid Poeschke, Riina Sipiläinen, and set decoration by Christoph Merg, create the look of a bygone era that was classy, restrained, and a little much at times. The production clearly took their time to research the era and the main subject’s life to recreate a world in which to set the actors and let them work. Also of importance, the costume design by Anna Vilppunen is something to be seen. Little details like the color of shirts, the shades of pants, uniforms, etc are all done with care and attention. Something any fashion fan should see and appreciate. The cinematography by Lasse Frank Johannessen puts all of this work in careful, calculated framing that uses the lighting, the sets, and the locations to their best. It sets the mood for the story and lets the actors shine in all of the talented work by everyone involved.
Tom of Finland is a carefully-crafted film that shows how to approach a subject such as this and how to treat any biography subject with respect and reverence while still showing all the angles of the man’s life. The acting is talented, nuanced, and layered, showing that Pekka Strang is a great actor. The whole cast is deserving of kudos, showing the strength of the script, directing, and casting decisions. Details in the film, such as costumes and décors, show that everything was carefully calculated and planned before being put onto film by a talented crew. Tom of Finland, aka Touko Laaksonen, is an important figure in the art and lgbt worlds. He did more than just draw muscular, skimpily-clad men, he had a reason to do so and his art opened up doors for a slew of people. The film has a quality that should get many people not familiar with his works interested.