Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hardy, Gandolfini carry 'The Drop'

The most powerful guys in The Drop , a tasty new crime movie set on the urban fringe, don't get much screen time. They're Chechen gangsters who have taken over gambling from Brooklyn thugs who used to be somebodies, but now are pretty much old news.

Cousin Marv's bar, where much of the story takes place, still bears Marv's name, and Marv still smokes incessantly at a corner desk, but everyone knows that Marv lost the neighborhood joint to Chechens who now use the place as one of their many drops for gambling money.

The bar's dingy, over-used look makes it seem as if you almost can smell the sour odor of cheap rye, and in a movie such as this, atmosphere counts.

Adapted by Dennis Lehane from his short story Animal Rescue, The Drop takes us into the lumpen world of low-level thugs, mob wannabes and at least one guy who's just plain crazy.

Directed by Michael R. Roskam, the Belgian director best known for the movie Bullhead, The Drop features strong performances from Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini.

Gandolfini plays Marv, and Hardy portrays Bob Saginowski, Marv's cousin, a bartender who doesn't come off as the brightest of lights. Bob works for Marv, and seems reasonably content with what appears to be a fairly meager lot.

The story begins when Bob finds a battered bull-terrier puppy in a garbage can. He rescues the dog, and later receives puppy-care advice from Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a woman who gradually warms up to Bob, who's not a pushy sort. She encourages him to name the puppy Rocco.

Because Bob may be getting played by some very dangerous people, you keep fretting about the dog's safety, and that gives the movie an extra layer of tension.

Lehane (Gone Baby, Gone and Mystic River) usually sets his stories in Boston, and I'm not sure what he gained by moving this one to Brooklyn.

But Lehane's plotting holds up, and the actors make us forgive dialogue that sometimes tries too hard to be ripe.

Hardy, the British actor last seen in Locke, is terrific when used correctly, and he's used to great effect here. It's impossible to look at him without thinking of Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, but Hardy's not doing a Brando imitation. He's creating a character that's all his.

It's difficult to say just how good Hardy is without including a spoiler, so I'll say nothing more than it's best to reserve judgement about Hardy's shambling performance until the picture's done.

Familiar from the Swedish version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Rapace works equally well as the tough but wary Nadia, and Gandolfini is superb as a guy whose authority has been reduced to worrying about the few free drinks that Bob occasionally dispenses.

Gandolfini's Bob has lost some of his spark, but seems just smart enough to make us worry. Marv lives with his sister (Ann Dowd).

Matthias Schoenaerts, who appeared in Bullhead, gives another notable performance. Schoenaerts plays a wild-card character, a psychopath who claims to be the dog's original owner.

Roskam, whose Bullhead dealt with cattle smuggling and the illegal hormone trade, does a solid job, laying on the right amount of grit and keeping the performances on track.

You'd think a Belgian director, a British actor and a Swedish actress might take some of the sting out of a grimy little U.S.-based crime movie, but a powerhouse cast turns this trickily plotted thriller into a lowlife fable that's steeped in just the right amount of sadness.

And, yes, some of that sadness stems from knowing that this was Gandolfini's last movie and wishing it weren't so.

No comments: