There’s a happy ending, except nearly everybody dies.
It all happens in the grubby underworld of Brooklyn, where men new to the crime scene in America vie with the old established gangs. (Until recently, whoever heard of mobsters from Chechnya?) In fact, in author Dennis Lehane’s new film, The Drop, it’s practically impossible to keep the perpetrators straight without a scorecard.
They include a number of faces that are relatively unknown, or unrecognizable, and that makes it difficult to figure out how they relate to each other. Or not.
The “star” of the film is Tom Hardy, the English actor who made his television debut in Band of Brothers and subsequently appeared in the films Black Hawk Down, the science fiction thriller Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Dark Knight Rises, among others.
In The Drop Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a seemingly simple-minded bartender working for his cousin Marv in the bar cousin Marv no longer owns. Cousin Marv is played by the extraordinary James Gandolfini in his last film role. (Sadly, Gandolfini had gained a tremendous amount of weight and appeared to be a walking admonition to the obese that too much weight can eventually kill you.)
The loss of Gandolfini, like the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, leaves a huge gap in our roster of “the best actors of their generation,” and watching Gandolfini’s face so clearly express a variety of emotions with just the movement of his eyes makes you sad once again to know that he is gone.
The other star in this film is a dog that Bob finds wounded and dumped in a garbage can to die. In the process of rescuing it, he meets the woman who owns the garbage can, but not the dog. She helps him nurse it and more or less coerces him into keeping it and caring for it. He names it Rocco and soon becomes obsessed with it. And also, gently, with the woman, Nadia, played by Noomi Rapace.
The dog is adorable and is the subject of Animal Rescue, a short story by Dennis Lehane from which The Drop was taken. Unfortunately, however, it was apparently impossible to get a series of dogs that looked enough alike to convincingly portray him as he grows up. In some scenes his black coat has streaks of white. In others the white is missing. In one scene, in fact, as Bob leads him down the street, Rocco changes noticeably from an older, heavier dog to a smaller puppy, and back again.
So, to get back to the plot. Cousin Marv’s bar is one of the many drop spots in Brooklyn where stacks of money are “deposited” and held for gang leaders, as well as policemen, judges, politicians, and other “bought” officials. The bar itself is a popular neighborhood meeting place filled with a crowd of men nearly as menacing as those in the bar in Star Wars.
But Bob’s big moment comes on the night of the Super Bowl, when the cache of deposited money becomes enormous. And the convolutions of the plot become enormous too. Everybody has hired someone to rob the bar. But you have to figure out who belongs to whom.
The main menace is a man named Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), who used to be Nadia’s boyfriend. Then there are a bunch of black-browed men who all look alike, and they are thugs working for Cousin Marv, thugs working for other thugs, and the inevitable Chechens.
There is a lot of shooting, but nothing blows up, there is no car chase, and very little blood. It’s a pretty classy love story cum gangster epic and director Michael Roskam has fashioned a chronology that leaves you puzzling it out from the very beginning. It’s definitely not a run-of-the-mill production. And definitely enjoyable.
The Drop opened on September 12th and is in theaters in Los Angeles now.
Photo: Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini in Cousin Marv’s Bar.