The Drop – 5 stars

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The film versions of Dennis Lehane’s books Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone are excellent, but they are mythic stories about the bonds of family in a criminal world. The Drop has no such sweep. It’s a small crime film about a Brooklyn bar and the little people (James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy) who run it for the Chechen mob. When the bar is used as a “drop bar” for the mob’s money, and it is robbed, the little people are thrust into a situation they are ill-equipped to handle.

I just saw Hardy as a meticulous Welsh construction manager dealing with his crumbling life in Locke, and he was immersed in the role. But when you bring foreigners to “New Yawk” (or Biloxi, for that matter), you run the risk of the mannered, cartoonish accent and swagger of Russell Crowe in Naked City. Forget foreigners. Even Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts can succumb to the perils of “da’ street, and as anyone who has seen The Pope of Greenwich Village will attest, the sight is not pretty.

Not so with Hardy. He is comfortable with the character and the milieu and while it’s no stretch for Gandolfini to play the type, in his last role, Tony Soprano does not disappoint. Hardy is Gandolfini’s quiet second banana, either inscrutable or dim, but steady and loyal either way. As the out-of-their depth small-timers, Hardy and Gandolfini are ably supported by Noomi Rapace, the damaged local girl who binds with Hardy over an abused pit bull left in her trash can (the dog is so cute as to be unnerving; his fate becomes almost too paramount and you spend an inordinate amount of time asking, “Where’s the damn dog?”).

As good as these actors are, Matthias Schoenaerts steals the film as Rapace’s ex-boyfriend, a local hood looking to capitalize on the heist. He presents the perfect mix for a villain; terrifying, intriguing and just a little sympathetic, although you can’t put your finger on why. It’s a great performance that should be recognized come Oscar time. There is no chance that will occur.

This is Michael Roskam’s first American film, and the Belgian exhibits everything you want a new filmmaker to show. It is understated, assured in its pace, taut, organic and comfortable with the quiet moments.  Roskam feels no need to amp the action or to bolster the emotional connection between the characters. He lets the audience fill in the gaps, resulting in very poignant moments between Hardy and Gandolfini and a compelling love story between Hardy and Rapace, even though they don’t so much as kiss.

One of the best films of the year.

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