The Drop review: James Gandolfini's swansong unfolds at Brooklyn fights

James Gandolfini

The task of conjuring up a blue collar Brooklyn is taken on by a Belgian director and a British star in this Dennis Lehane penned drama that also sees James Gandolfini’s last big screen appearance.

The Drop is the name given to a bar that, on a given night and that night only, becomes the depositing bank for cash of ill repute. Marv’s Bar is one such place, run by Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) but owned by ruthless Chechens ever since Marv lost control of his gambling debts. Alongside Marv behind the bar is his own cousin, Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a taciturn stalwart. Bob religiously attends the 8am mass at St Dom’s and, therefore, is a magnet for trouble.

Directed by Michaël Roskam who came to fame with the visceral Belgian drama Bullhead, The Drop shares the same sang-froid. People living out hard-scrabble lives endure traumatic events, but take in their stride. And if they’re not enduring, they’re perpetrating. Cousin Marv has a foot in both camps. Not Gandolfini’s most memorable character, but an echo of him, Mickey is Tony Soprano but browbeaten and more than a little bitter. If you want a final Gandolfini performance to remember him by, last year’s Enough Said is a better choice.

The energy in the movie comes from Mickey and Bob’s adversaries. Firstly there’s Detective Torres (John Ortiz), a classic Colombo type, always playing innocent with a look of childish bemusement on his face. Secondly, and lifting the drama whenever he appears, is Matthias Schoenaerts’s Eric Deeds. Roski’s lead in Bullhead (and subsequently the breakout star of Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone) Schoenaerts fills Deeds to the brim with moxy. Every time he appears, usually to confront Bob, usually about a dog, there’s a sense that anything could happen; most likely violence, but perhaps a theatrical flourish with an umbrella. Simply speaking, Eric Deeds is the Joker in a shell suit.

Bob, meanwhile, is the heart of the drama and, as such, is the key to the film ultimately being a disappointment. Both idiot savant and Cool Hand Luke, Bob is a combination that never quite convinces. He may be indefatigable, but it’s hard to tell what, if anything, gets him animated. His romance with Noomi Rapace’s Nadia is pretty tepid too, their two hearts too innocent and open for the hard knock lives they both have led.

Lehane, the hardboiled master, has almost gone soft here. It’s not so much in the tale, there’s enough blood and a brutal final twist to take care of that. But it’s in the drawing of his Brooklyn, where men are men and your word is your word and nobody, but nobody, messes with your local, that it all comes off a tad sentimental. Only in a brief piece of intra-police exposition (“Ever since the cuts we’ve given up on cases like this”) do we get a sense that this is a contemporary drama and not one more suited to the time of Kojak. You could argue there’s another detail of contemporary Brooklyn that’s missing too. Never mind the drop bars, where are the organic cupcake shops?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul MacInnes, for theguardian.com on Sunday 7th September 2014 04.28 Europe/London

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