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Movie Review: The Drop, James Gandolfini’s Swan Song

Movie Review: The Drop, James Gandolfini’s Swan Song: Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini

Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini

No other actor broods as charismatically as Tom Hardy. It’s a good thing, too, because there are heaps and heaps of brooding going on — but not much else — in The Drop. Based on a Dennis Lehane short story and screenplay, it’s essentially a blue collar crime thriller with a twist we see a mile coming. It’s also impossible to spoil the movie because, really, we’ve seen you’ve seen the whole damn thing before.

Hardy plays slow-witted, emotionally clamped-down bartender Bob Saginowski, a soulful sad sack who broods plenty about his less-than-stellar past while managing a Brooklyn working class dive bar. Working alongside him is his bitter, gravel-voiced ex-loan shark uncle Marv (the late, wonderful James Gandolfini, making his swan song), who also broods about what used to be, mostly because he lives with his overly-maternal sister (the ever-excellent Ann Dowd) and because he’s lost his once-lofty status as a neighborhood wheel, let alone his ownership of the place, to Chechen thugs. Of course, the actors playing the Chechens brood lots, too, when they’re not hamming it up the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon-level villainy.

Anyway, the bar (as is patiently but needlessly explained to us) functions as a “drop,” a clearinghouse for the Mob’s filthy money and, one late night, masked bandits jack the entire take while Hardy and Gandolfini are on duty. Anyone smell a rat yet? The mob guys start putting the screws to our heroes about the stolen loot, as does a snarky, constantly smirking cop (Jon Ortiz), who dogs Hardy’s every move.

Speaking of dogs — the movie was, after all, originally titled Animal Rescue — Hardy and a wised-up, sad-eyed beauty from the block (Noomi Rapace) begin to bond over caring for the world’s cutest abused pit bull puppy. Left for dead in a trashcan by Rapace’s moronically skeevy lowlife ex-boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts), the dog brings out the best in the maladroit, socially awkward Hardy and the worst in Schoenaerts. (Chill, pooch lovers, at least things work out better for the pup than for the audience.)

Directed flatly and with disappointing tone deafness by Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead), the movie’s various plot threads never weave together convincingly. The sense of place is off, too, because while the movie often has the feel and vibe of Boston, we keep being told it’s set in Brooklyn. Given the track record of Lehane’s novels turned into films (Mystic River, Shutter Island, Gone, Baby, Gone), let alone his writing gigs on The Wire and Boardwalk Empire, it’s no wonder that first-class actors were attracted the material. But they never make their characters simmer with energy or life of their own, aside from the memories they sometimes conjure of earlier movies with better screenplays directed by, say, Sidney Lumet or TV dramas from David Chase. Hardy couldn’t be any more than magnetic and compelling even if he and Rapace don’t spark one bit.

The real drop here is the one you may feel in your heart and gut when you realize how something that had every right to be special turns out to be so forgettable. ** ½

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