Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Movie Review: 'The Drop' a fitting, familiar send-off for Gandolfini
Many actors are drawn to similar characters throughout their careers, but perhaps no one is as symbiotically fused to an onscreen identity as the late James Gandolfi, who captured every class of criminal during his career from the mob boss to the corrupt politician to the assassin to the neighborhood tough and every shade of low-life in between.
It's fitting then, in a poetically nostalgic way, that his final film role is not the tenderhearted divorcee Albert in last year's excellent Enough Said but instead Cousin Marv, the down-and-out Brooklynite who oversees a watering hole for the mob and watches the last shades of his rambunctious skull-cracking youth fade away.
Although "The Drop" is technically a film about Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy, adopting yet another vocal tenor in his ever-expanding chameleon gallery of on-screen affectations) Gandolfini's Marv is the commanding presence when he's on screen and the haunting shadow when he's not. The bar where the action is set has Marv's name on the door, and the methodical, slow-burning story creeps forward on the back of Marv's past sins.
As explained by Bob, a night in Brooklyn is one where clandestine money is constantly changing hands. That money eventually reaches its final destination, a "Drop Bar," selected seemingly at random, where all the dirty bills of the burough are collected for final delivery.
One night while closing up, Bob and Marv are ripped off for five grand by a couple of punks casing the bar as practice for a later Drop night when they can net the big score. But money is money and the mob wants their five grand back, so the family starts turning the screws on Bob and Marv to make amends.
Bob's got other problems too. One night while walking home he notices an injured dog discarded in a seemingly random garbage can, leading him to adopt it as his own with the help of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), whose ex-boyfriend doesn't take to kindly to the interest that Bob is taking in his girl.
And there's John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook) as Detective Torres, who in the process of investigating the robbery begins to think that there might be more foul deeds connected to Cousin Marv's Bar.
That may sound like a lot of disparate elements, but The Drop exists in a pulpy crime world where everyone in the neighborhood and all their baggage are at least partially aware of and constantly running into one another. There's a lived-in history to the story, as though the audience has arrived late to a movie that's been playing for years and leaves well before the action truly ends.
These are characters for whom a different set of rules apply, where wrapping a severed arm is plastic is treated with mute indifference and where acts of violence are expected but still leap out unannounced.
Hardy's Bob is a particular and engaging enigma, a man for whom past is past and the present is handled one decision and crisis at a time. His chemistry with Rapace's Nadia is probably the weaker link in The Drop's chain, but neither seems out of place as blue collar Brooklynites.
Much like Hardy's previous film Lawless, the individual performances are perhaps better than the actual material. But the combined effect of Hardy, Gandolfini, Ortiz and Rapace, who all play it cool while subtly tweaking expectations, takes what could have been a bargian airport-novel whodunit or a campy-grit Guys and Dolls and instead delivers a rich character piece that hums with moral ambiguity.
*The Drop opens nationwide on Friday, September 12.