Curtain call

Tony Soprano and Bane take on Brooklyn.

Tony Soprano and Bane take on Brooklyn.

Rated 4.0

The Drop features the final film performance of James Gandolfini, and it’s a beauty. Luckily for the viewer, it’s not even the best thing about the movie. That would be the central performance delivered by Tom Hardy as Bob, a seemingly meek bartender of questionable intelligence who works for Cousin Marv (Gandolfini). Hardy disappears into this role, and will have you in awe that this is actually 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 wind up in a safe. One night, the bar is held up, and Cousin Marv has to hand over five grand. This puts Marv in debt to scary Chechen mobsters, now 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 in an even deeper dilemma. Their drop bar is to be the money spot for Super Bowl Sunday. That makes it 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 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, and starts using the dog for blackmail.

The bar and dog plotlines eventually converge for a finale that’s both tense and completely shocking. The Drop is a slow burn for sure, but when things come to a head it explodes with surprising power.

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

Gandolfini plays the role as if it will remind us of Tony, with many of the same mannerisms. Much of what Gandolfini did since The Sopranos (including his wonderful turn in last year’s Enough Said) seemed to try to make us forget that legendary character, but Marv definitely possesses Soprano traits. It’s a great performance and one that makes the loss of Gandolfini all the more painful. It’s a little tough to watch the movie knowing it is the last time we will see something new from him, but it’s also a blessing in that it’s very good.

Disappearing behind some bad sweaters, flat hair and a Brooklyn accent, Hardy delivers a character that’s always sympathetic, even when he reveals himself to be a bit more complicated than he first seems. It’s just another great performance in what is starting to become a rather impressive list of achievements that includes The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Warrior. If you pay attention to the internet, you probably know Hardy is Mel Gibson’s replacement in next year’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

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

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

I will say the ending of The Drop seemed to be tacked on and a little happier than it should’ve been. That’s a small quibble for a movie that contains a last, great dose of Gandolfini and a remarkable Hardy.