Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Drop

A star-making performance by Tom Hardy highlights the week in film.

Actually, 2014 may go down as the year of Hardy. He announced his arrival with a tour-de-force performance in the filmed play "Locke," comprised entirely of one man's 90-minute motor trip to fulfill a moral obligation that may cost him his family and his job. He's also the subject of Rob Brydon's and Steve Coogan's most riotous riff in the brilliant "Trip to Italy." But with his work in "The Drop," Hardy will secure his place among the most sought-after of leading men. It's a marvel of understated power, of the use of physical signifiers as subtle as a sigh, a clenching of the shoulders, a casting down of those hypnotic eyes. A performance of few decibels speaks louder than almost any other this year.

Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, the barkeep at Cousin Marv's, a Brooklyn drop bar (so called because some nights the Mob uses it to store the evening's dirty money). Marv (James Gandolfini) no longer owns the bar; he sold it to some Chechen toughs and now works, resentfully, for them. Bob will tell you, "I just tend bar," and if you believe that I've got some Florida swampland for you. When two hoods rob the bar and make off with five large, Chovka (Michael Aronov) tells Marv to make good on it - or else. On his way home one night, Bob hears a beaten-up pit bull puppy puling in a woman's garbage can, and reluctantly adopts him. He also undertakes a halting courtship of the woman, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), whose darting eyes and aversion to touch suggest a damaged past. Meanwhile, the dog beater, Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), shows up at Bob's door with proof of ownership and demands either the pooch or ten grand. And Marv still has to figure out a way to repay Chovka by Super Bowl Sunday.

Writer Dennis Lehane has constructed an elegant and clever plot for "The Drop," but what I'll remember are the performances and director Michael R. Roskam's atmosphere of palpable, claustrophobic menace. Many scenes end without fireworks, but there's a pit in your stomach throughout. Gandolfini, in his last major role, imparts to Marv the wisdom and the resignation that both come with time, the last barely flickering embers of a once big-shot's pride. Rapace, strong in the original "Dragon Tattoo" series and the terrific "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," brings to Nadia intelligence and obdurate self-preservation. Schoenaerts, unrecognizable from the superb "Rust and Bone," makes Deeds canny enough to know you just want him to go away, and to use that knowledge against you. John Ortiz also merits mention as Detective Torres, assigned to investigate the initial robbery at Cousin Marv's, who sees Saginowski often at church and begrudges his refusal to take communion. Lehane bestows his best line on Torres: "Bob, they never see you coming."

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