It’s hard to believe that it has been over a year since we lost actor James Gandolfini. The head of the Soprano’s family on the hit HBO series, Gandolfini was beginning to show his range away from his New Jersey mafia persona with critically acclaimed films such as Enough Said and Zero Dark Thirty.
In death (Gandolfini died of a heart attack on June 19, 2013), his presence is as strong as ever and is showcased in the new drama/thriller, The Drop which gets its World Premiere here at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Gandolfini plays Marv, a former big deal in the Brooklyn crime world who has lost most of his power and allure to the younger more violent successors. Marv now runs a bar and employs his nephew Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) as a barkeeper. We learn early that the Chechen mob uses random bars as drop establishments for their illegal monies. On a night when Marv and Bob’s bar is selected, a seemingly random robbery sets the stage for series of events that threaten everyone involved that eventful evening.
Bob is the focus of the main plot. A budding relationship with a neighbourhood Nadia (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Noomi Rapace) brought on through the common care of a discarded Pitbull and a past backstory that slowly unravels giving us a much different impression of the Bob that is portrayed so slow and innocent through the film’s first two-thirds, only add to the layers of the script penned by Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone). Interference from both a local thug and the police detective only add to the complexity of future actions taken by Bob as the mob selects Marv’s tavern as the drop for Superbowl Sunday – the biggest drop day of the year.
The Drop is directed by Michaël R. Roskam who brought us Bullhead in 2011 and he is able to capture the authenticity of the city streets and life of a suburb far from the limelight and prestige of mid-town Manhattan. Cold colors are generally used to help aide in constructing the bleakness of the environment with even reds and yellows heavily muted or dirtied.
But where The Drop ascends in its location shooting it fails in its attempt of being the crime story of moral ambiguity for which it strives. Hardy mumbles most of his lines but is effective as the films lead but where as Cronenberg’s History of Violence excelled at having chaos circle the protagonist until their past skills are displayed in ferocious detail, The Drop miscarries in having its audience interested in any fate of the characters live or die. Even the dog which has as much screen time (or so it seemed) as Rapace is a sympathetic character at the onset only to become a screen chewing nuisance towards the end chapters.
Gandolfini’s last film does showcase some great acting work that was just beginning to bud on the larger screen. But without much to work with and hardly enough screen time to emote, the performance feels layered with talent but hardly basted with opportunity.
Rapace and Hardy continue to be fascinating actors to watch. Hardy was brilliant recently in Locke and his take on the Mad Max franchise is one of the most anticipated reboots in recent memory. But with a script that labors towards mediocrity and a main character that looks to be channeling his inner Rocky Balboa, The Drop simply drops the ball on becoming anything more than a Saturday afternoon television time filler.