James Gandolfini’s final film wasn’t so much the tour-de-force that I was expecting, but it was a powerful performance by one of the finest actors in a generation.
In “The Drop,” the Sopranos actor, who died in June 2013 of a heart attack, plays a Brooklyn bar owner called Cousin Marv whose ideal life of a tough guy gangster somehow slipped by him. Marv can’t live down the mistake that cost him a life as a gangster, something Marv equates to being respected and feared.
Cousin Marv’s bar is no longer really owned by Marv, but instead by a local Chechen gangster who muscled his way into control of the neighborhood’s crime syndicate. The bar itself is actually run quiet, seemingly shy bartender Bob Saginowski, played by actor Tom Hardy (“The Dark Knight Rises” and “Lawless”).Hardy is the real star of the film, and it’s his character Bob that is actually the centerpiece. What appears at first to be trust between the bar’s namesake — who still runs the business day-to-day for the mob boss — and its managing bartender turns out to be a tension-laden relationship more resembling a “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” mantra.
The film’s title, “The Drop,” refers to a ‘drop’ of all of the neighborhood’s illicit cash from a day’s worth of illegal betting, prostitution, loan-sharking and the other activities that make up a local mob boss’ revenues. Because the mob boss doesn’t trust the individual collectors to hold onto the money for very long, and because it can’t very well be deposited in a bank, the money is instead deposited nightly at a bar — chosen at random from the dozens in the neighborhood — for the gangster-types to pick up the next day. It goes without saying that the bar chosen doesn’t have any choice in the matter, and that the penalty for any problems that might occur with the drop would be very high indeed.
Adapted from a Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River” and “Shutter Island”) short story, “The Drop” is directed by Michaël R. Roskam, a Belgian director whose most notable work before “The Drop” was the acclaimed 2011 Dutch film “Bullhead,” which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Gandolfini does return somewhat to the essence of the character that made him a household name. Playing Marv as a brooding thug, full of bitterness and resentment over a lifetime of failures, shortcomings and missed opportunities, Gandolfini touches on the character of Tony Soprano — if Soprano had remained on the street as a local thug bitter about being repeatedly passed over for promotion.
As Bob, Tom Hardy shines. The quiet bartender, seemingly indifferent to the bullying personas that dominate the neighborhood, stops to help a beaten puppy and winds up adopting the dog. In the process, Bob meets Nadia (Noomi Rapace, “Prometheus”), and the two begin what at first looks as though it may develop into a romantic relationship. The chemistry between Hardy and Rapace is palpable, and the film wisely creates tension between the two.
It’s all a bit cliche, and the storyline too predictable to build the kind of suspense “The Drop” really needed in order to elevate it above simple crime noir. It’s not a great film, but it is worth seeing if you’re a fan of any of the three lead actors. I would like to say that Gandolfini held the film together, but it’s truly Hardy’s performance that keeps “The Drop” just away from the edge of disaster at several points.
By all accounts, Gandolfini’s real life personality didn’t bear even a remote similarity to the brutish and impulsive gangster characters which made him a star. But, that fact only illustrates the impressive talent of the actor.
That gangster persona is how we remember James Gandolfini, and in “The Drop,” he gives us just one more glimpse at one of the greatest actors of his generation.