CRITIC’S CORNER: ‘THE DROP’

Image+Courtesy+of+Fox+Searchlight+Pictures

Image Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

It’s hard not to be intrigued by a movie when it’s an actor’s final on-screen performance—particularly when the actor in question in James Gandolfini and the movie is a gangster flick.

In “The Drop,” directed by Michaël R. Roskam, the late Gandolfini plays an aging ex-mobster and bar manager named Marv. The bar, affectionately named Cousin Marv’s, is what they call a “drop bar”: envelopes stuffed with dirty cash are stashed in Marv’s safe while en route to a group of Chechen gangsters who own the bar, Marv having given it up when the Chechens squeezed him.

Opposite Gandolfini is an easygoing and likeable, albeit vicious, bartender: Marv’s cousin Bob, played by Tom Hardy. Hardy offers a Brando-esque performance, muttering in an adopted outer-borough dialect. He’s a quiet everyman with a boring name and a shady past; he’s shy in the most exciting sense of the word.

The plot of the film is relatively simple: a pair of masked hoodlums robs the bar and makes off with five grand of Chechen money. The Chechens, who remain suspicious of Marv and Bob (believing the robbery may have been an inside job), want their ill-gotten money back. Marv and Bob must get it back or face the consequences.

Oh, there’s also a puppy that Bob adopts early on in the film when he finds it in a garbage can. The dog, sired “Rocco” by his new owner, is undeniably cute, but it comes with some baggage: its previous owner is a local sociopath played by Matthias Schoenaerts. Rocco also serves as an introduction to the owner of the garbage can, the beautiful Nadia played by Noomi Rapace.

“The Drop” could get by on performances alone. Hardy is enthralling as a neo-noir protagonist, recalling images of an early Robert De Niro. He is at once charming in conversation and intimidatingly savage when violence is called for. Further, it is both wonderful and painful to see Gandolfini perform on the big screen for the last time, larger than life as a tortured, sometimes blundering gangster. His acting chops are on full display, and his commanding presence helps support the film throughout.

However, the film’s storyline is worn sadly thin, having been adapted from an 8000-word short story written by screenwriter Dennis Lehane. The plot lurches slowly forward before coming to an all too unsatisfying conclusion. There’s an attempt at a twist towards the end of the film—as is expected of Lehane, who also wrote the screenplay for “Shutter Island”—but it falls short of being truly shocking. And the fluffy conclusion tacked on to the end of the film doesn’t help the script’s integrity.

Still, where the plot falls short, the acting abilities are enough to make up for it. Further, the cinematography and Brooklyn setting offer an authentically gritty quality that resonates deeply; the film seems to hide bits of the story in its concrete alleyways.

In all, Belgian director Michael R. Roskam’s uneven but poignant English language debut is a modest success. Supported by excellent acting and a passable (if tired) story, the film engages where it needs to.

While “The Drop” is certainly worth seeing, a matinee would be preferable to a full-price evening ticket. It’s not going to rock your world, but it’s a decent gangster movie starring a few of Hollywood’s best actors, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

Will may be reached at [email protected]