Gandolfini’s final film deals again with the underworld

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

url-1When brought to seedy, crime-ridden territories in film, what’s interesting is how repulsive, yet intriguing they can be for the viewer. Michaël R. Roskam’s crime drama, “The Drop,” has the audience visit these undesirable places wrapped up in the shadowy workings of organized crime, capturing the dirty and dangerous dealings of all involved.

In the Brooklyn area, several bars are used as “drops,” where money is delivered, and then picked up by local crime rings. Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) and his older cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini), work at one such bar, which used to be owned by the latter, but is know “owned” by a group of gangsters.

One night during closing, a pair of masked men enter the bar and rob it. When the bar’s “owner” and his crew find out that it was their money that was stolen, the two cousins try to figure out a way to get it back, while also dealing with a police investigation that threatens to disclose some of the community’s biggest secrets.

Tom Hardy has really established himself as a commendable leading man in film. As a character who is involved in relationships with gangsters, but trying to make his life more honorable at the same time, Hardy shows the conflicted nature of Bob. The character is trying to develop himself into a softer soul, but is still battling his hardened past as someone who used to want the rough life of crime, and Hardy expertly plays both sides of this role so we know the kind of person he is now, and who he once was.

James Gandolfini, in his final film performance before his passing last year, gives us something a little different in his tough-guy repertoire than what we’re normally used to seeing. Having played mafioso Tony Soprano on “The Sopranos” for almost a decade, you can’t help but think of Gandolfini playing characters who have an intimidating presence.

In this film, however, it’s interesting to watch how restrained that persona is. Considering that Gandolfini plays a character who used to be respected and feared in his neighborhood, this downplaying of toughness fits very well with Marv’s insecurities. It gives audiences the opportunity to see a different side to a type of character that Gandolfini became known for playing.

Noomi Rapace, who plays Bob’s love interest, Nadia, displays her talent admirably, despite the way her role is written. Although she does adequate work in her scenes with Hardy, her character pretty much doesn’t become more than a crime-drama girl-in-distress near the end.

The screenplay by Dennis Lehane, which is his first and is based on his short story, “Animal Rescue,” is another addition to his works that include descents into modern hellish environments. We’ve seen these kinds of backdrops in film adaptations of his novels, such as Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” and Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” movies that display their sordid settings in suitably gritty detail, and “The Drop” succeeds in bringing that same atmosphere to its story.

Just like Lehane’s other works, the narrative leaves you with certain aspects that are open for interpretation, encouraging you to ask questions after the film ends, and it may even benefit from a second viewing. Throughout the film, it becomes more and more interesting as you try and figure out the characters’ motives and whose side everyone is on.

The screenplay has a couple of flaws, but this was an acceptable first effort by Lehane for screenwriting, and if he writes another screenplay in the future, I’m sure he will be able to pen another intricate, crime-focused story. Director Michael R. Roskam can now be added to the list of directors who have competently adapted Lehane’s works for film.

Despite the movie not ranking quite as high as other films based on Lehane’s stories, Roskam is able to stage scenes of heated tension that are a staple of Lehane’s narratives. Roskam’s understanding of a tale about a man who’s trying to redeem himself from his dark history and his cousin who’s trying to hold onto whatever little respect and fear he has left from those in his community is what gives the film its impact.

Lehane’s stories have secrets woven into them that beg to be found out, and that’s what you can expect from “The Drop.”

Final grade: B+