Maybe I’ve been following film and television for long enough for this to become a regular occurrence or something weird is going on, but it seems like a lot of great actors have passed away over the past year. One of those actors was The Sopranos star James Gandolfini. I unfortunately didn’t start watching The Sopranos until after his death, but I did admire the character-actor stage of his career it looked like he was settling into with such grace with roles in films such as Zero Dark Thirty and Killing Them Softly. While his final role, in the film The Drop, is of a piece with his roles of the last few years it only further confirms that we lost a great talent. Gandolfini’s performance (as well as that of co-star Tom Hardy, who is quietly having a great year) is the highlight of an otherwise solid but unspectacular film.
The Drop comes from director Michael R. Roskam (whose most prominent work is the over-the-top Bullhead) and acclaimed writer Dennis Lehane (adapting one of his own short stories). It follows a bartender (Tom Hardy) at a bar used by the Chechen mob to store their money as he gets caught between a criminal (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his ambitious but caged cousin (James Gandolfini). While there is a lot to admire in this film, it ultimately comes across with a tiny bit of disappointment. It’s a thriller that really struggles to find tension and sustain it as it spends way too much time setting up its characters. Normally when a thriller is this meticulous it leads to a much richer experience on further viewing but the plot for this film is so simple I doubt that would be the case with this one. It also doesn’t help that Roskam doesn’t bring any sort of style to this film even when the story is in desperate need of something visually interesting. Yet if you stick with the film until the end it will reward you with a fantastic twist that the film is smart enough not to play up too much.
Going in the favor of this film is a fantastic cast. Character actors such as John Ortiz and Ann Dowd (she has been in everything as of late) give some nice flavor to the film that the direction couldn’t. Matthias Schoenaerts does great work as an antagonist that is so unlike his previous work that I didn’t even notice it was him until the closing credits. However, the real stars of the film are of course Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini. It seems like Hardy has a new accent for every project he does, but he brings much more to the role of Bob than just that. Hardy somehow is able to give his character a sense of composure even while changing his character drastically at the blink of a plot development. Meanwhile, Gandolfini brings such a sense of presence to Cousin Marv that was desperately needed for the character.
The Drop is able to overcome its shortcomings with a strong cast.