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18 Sep 2014

Gandolfini's Finale: A Weak Ending Aside, 'The Drop' Is Fantastic, Thanks to Fine Acting Performances

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James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy in The Drop. James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy in The Drop.

The Drop features the beautiful final film performance of James Gandolfini—and it’s not even the best thing about the movie.

That would be the central performance by Tom Hardy as Bob, a seemingly meek bartender of questionable intelligence who works for Cousin Marv (Gandolfini). Hardy disappears into this role, and he will leave you in awe that this is also the guy who played Bane in The Dark Night Rises. He is one versatile actor.

The bar that Cousin Marv and Bob occupy is a drop bar, where many of the gambling winnings in a seedier part of Brooklyn, N.Y., wind up in a safe. One night, the bar is held up, and Cousin Marv has to hand over $5,000. This puts Marv in debt to scary Chechen mobsters, proprietors of the bar Marv once owned. Bob and Marv must devise a plan to pay the mobsters back—and when they do, they find themselves with another dilemma: Their drop bar is supposed to be the money spot for Super Bowl Sunday. That makes the bar a prime candidate for another robbery.

In the meantime, Bob finds a bloody pit bull puppy in a neighbor’s garbage can. That unknowing neighbor is Nadia (the always wonderful Noomi Rapace), who befriends Bob and helps him with the dog. It turns out that the dog was intentionally put in the garbage by Nadia’s ex-boyfriend, Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), a creep who brags about having killed somebody. He starts using the dog for blackmail.

The plotlines converge for a finale that is both tense and completely shocking. The Drop is a slow burn, but when things come to a head, the film explodes with surprising power.

Gandolfini’s Marv has many similarities to Tony Soprano. Marv was once a big man in the neighborhood, but he’s lost power to another entity, and it’s screwing with his pride. Marv looks like Tony after a decade has passed; his power has been taken away; his wife has abandoned him; and he no longer cares about appearances. The screenplay even gives him a nagging sister and a father in a rest home.

Gandolfini plays the role with many of the same mannerisms that he gave Tony. Many of the roles Gandolfini took after The Sopranos (including his wonderful turn in last year’s Enough Said) seemed to be efforts to make us forget that legendary character, but Marv definitely has a lot of Tony Soprano in him. It’s tough to watch the movie knowing it is the last time we will see something new from Gandolfini—but it’s also a blessing, in that the performance and the film are both very good.

Disappearing behind bad sweaters, flat hair and a realistic Brooklyn accent, Hardy delivers a character who is always sympathetic, even when he reveals himself to be a bit more complicated than he first seems. It’s another great performance in a rather impressive list of achievements that includes The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Warrior. I’m curious to see what he does as Mel Gibson’s replacement in next year’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

The supporting cast is powerful. In addition to Rapace and Schoenaerts, there’s John Ortiz as a nosy detective who sees Bob every week at Mass and questions him about his refusal to take communion. Michael Aronov is appropriately spooky as Chovka, the man who wants his gambling money.

The Drop is directed by Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead) and scripted by Dennis Lehane, the man who penned other dark neighborhood crime stories in the novels Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Lehane also wrote Shutter Island, novel further proof that the man knows how to tell a great story.

The ending of The Drop seems tacked on and a little happier than it should’ve been. However, that’s a small quibble for a movie that contains a last, great dose of Gandolfini, and another remarkable performance by Tom Hardy.

The Drop is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

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