THE DROP * * 1 / 2
Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz and James Gandolfini. Screenplay by Dennis Lehane. Directed by Michael R. Roskam.
I really miss James Gandolfini.
I used to call him my favorite character actor, but this late at night after a few beers I can just cop to it and say Gandolfini was my favorite working actor, period. Heir to Gene Hackman’s throne in the lonely kingdom of terrifyingly vulnerable tough-guys, he carried himself as if he was absorbing even more punishment than he was dishing out. Motherfucker always seemed like he was bleeding.
But at the same time — man, was he funny. Gandolfini’s eyebrows were the most expressive since John Belushi’s, summoning fifty shades of exhausted exasperation – he turned the word “what?” into a punchline more times than I can even count. Tony Soprano was Jake LaMotta by way of Ralph Kramden.
So I suppose it’s in keeping with the Hackman comparison that Gandolfini’s final performance would end up being the best part of a thoroughly unambitious, throwaway little crime picture. (Movies seldom did right by Gandolfini, though he always did right by them.) The Drop is roughly as distinctive as its title, fattened out to feature length in a screenplay by Dennis Lehane from a short story he once called Animal Rescue.
It’s a flabby Boston noir transplanted to Brooklyn for budgetary purposes, starring Tom Hardy as a sad-sack bartender who finds a new lease on life when he discovers an abused puppy pitbull stuffed in a garbage can. Noomi Rapace plays his incongruously hot neighbor who just so happens to be an expert in veterinary medicine, and the film takes far longer than you might imagine possible for these two to capitalize on their chemistry.
Lording over it all is Gandolfini’s Cousin Marv, a wannabe gangster washout who handed over his neighborhood bar to a Chechen gang when the going got tough. Still seething with prickly resentment, Marv’s looking for one last chance to redeem his rep and get the heck out of Dodge. He’s angry, he’s entitled, and he’s laughably incompetent. This is a great Gandolfini character.
Unfortunately The Drop spends most of its running time dwelling on Tom Hardy’s How To Train Your Pitbull. The acclaimed English actor performs a credible facsimile of Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront, never quite coming off as more than movie-karaoke but the effort is appreciated nonetheless. And then there are a lot of stupid Dennis Lehane plot twists.
I’ve read most of Lehane’s novels, and for everything he gets right – sardonic Irish Catholic gallows humor, slangy banter, an unerring evovation of time and place – there’s always some sort of whoppingly stupid, eye-rolling coincidence positioned as a third-act reveal, undercutting all that came before. He’s got the grit of George V. Higgins with the tendencies of a huckster. The Drop is no exception, and this movie’s dumbass coda is almost unforgivable.
But it really was a pleasure to watch James Gandolfini one last time.