DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. In the mob thriller "The Drop," Tom Hardy plays a Brooklyn bartender beset by cops, gangsters and whoever abused a puppy he's now caring for. James Gandolfini plays Hardy's mob-connected cousin. It was Gandolfini's final movie role. Critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: It's always nice when writers of the higher pulp get to class up our action movies and TV shows. And Boston native Dennis Lehane has done better than most with high profile adaptations of "Mystic River," "Gone, Baby, Gone" and "Shutter Island." He wrote for "Boardwalk Empire" and has now penned his first screenplay, "The Drop," based on his story "Animal Rescue."
"The Drop," by the way, is also the title of Michael Connelly's most recent Harry Bosch thriller and I wouldn't have wanted to be in the room when Connelly got that news. The location has changed with the title, from Boston to Brooklyn, which hurts. There's something about the tribalism of the Lehane's Boston Irish Catholic gangsters that can't be replicated. But at least we don't suffer any more fake Boston accents.
Anyway, "The Drop" refers to a place where cash from all over the city gets deposited from mob bosses to collect. The location varies and some nights it goes to a bar called Cousin Marv's, where it's handled by a mild-mannered churchgoing bartender named Bob, played by Tom Hardy. Maybe you know Hardy from his muscle-bound, barely intelligible villain in "The Dark Knight Rises," or this year's "Locke." He's almost never the same. Apart from those pillowy lips, he disappears into every part. He's one of those actors you can't take your eyes off, for fear you'll miss some wonderful detail.
Here with his light Brooklyn stammer he sounds a bit like Jerry Lewis, but in an endearing way. He's physically unassertive. He backs away from people. But it's clear he carries secrets, maybe dark ones.
Mostly though, you see his sweet side. He finds a half-dead pit bull puppy stuffed in a garbage can and cares for it, along the way casting longing eyes on the unlucky woman whose garbage can it was, a waitress named Nadia, played by Noomi Rapace.
Cousin Marv is James Gandolfini. It was his last movie role and second-to-last role period, if you count an un-shown TV series pilot. Watching him in "The Drop," like watching Philip Seymour Hoffman in "A Most Wanted Man," is heartbreaking. Gandolfini was at his peak. Cousin Marv is a loser with dramatic stature, a man who never recovered after Chechen gangsters took over his bar and made him an employee. Now he needs money and knows too much about a robbery of his place, which has a detective, played by John Ortiz, sniffing around. And more important, the Chechens, led by a fine nuanced actor named Michael Aronov, dropping not-so-veiled threats.
It's sad when Hardy's Bob finds Gandolfini's Marv in his basement man cave, in an easy chair, hope visibly drained, suddenly contemptuous of his longtime ally.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DROP")
JAMES GANDOLFINI: (as Cousin Marv) Well, I'm not the guy that wasted his entire life waiting for it to start.
TOM HARDY: (as Bob) Rardy did that?
GANDOLFINI: (as Cousin Marv) At least I had something once. I was respected. I was feared. When I walked into a place, people sat up; they sat up straight. They noticed. What'd you ever have? That barstool that you put that old bitty at and bought her free drinks. And don't think I don't know that you did it on purpose. That was my stool. And nobody sat on that stool because it was cousin Marv's stool and that meant something. That meant something.
HARDY: (as Bob) But it didn't. Ever. It was just a stool.
EDELSTEIN: "The Drop" is directed by Michael R. Roskam, who made an excellent Belgian thriller called "Bullhead" and he gives the milieu a layered, lived-in texture. But the film doesn't have a satisfying shape. Its threads aren't tightly wound. There's a psycho played by "Bullhead" star Matthias Schoenaerts, who factors in the climax, but until seems peripheral. And a key plot point turns on a character who disappeared, probably bumped off, 10 years earlier, which doesn't give the narrative much urgency.
Nearly every character wears a beard, which makes them hard to tell apart at first glance, apart of course, from Hardy and Gandolfini. They're the reason
"The Drop" is worth seeing.
The movie does work, splendidly. As a character study of hoods who've learned to take their sorry fate as it comes, versus hoods who try to change things. In most cases, stupidly and end up lying in puddles of their own blood. What can you say about a film where the pit bull is the most adorable character?
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
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