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“The Drop”: A Soprano’s Final High Note

September 12, 2014

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James Gandolfini should’ve earned a posthumous best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his disarmingly wry performance as a lovable schlump in Nicole Holofcener’s delightful Enough Already, but perhaps his work was a bit too subtle. Now the Academy has an opportunity to make up for its oversight by nominating Gandolfini for his heartbreaking final role, as a fading wiseguy in The Drop.

Gandolfini is magnificent as Cousin Marv, a Brooklyn bar owner who’s been muscled out of his business by Chechen mobsters and who’s determined to get revenge by ripping off some of the money that gets funneled through his watering hole. Marv could be a post-onion rings Tony Soprano, assuming he lived (which David Chase will thankfully never tell us) and lost his power. There’s a haunting moment in The Drop when Gandolfini’s Marv says, “We’re fucking dead already—we’re just stlll walking around,” which takes on an even eerier power in light of his tragic passing.

That’s just one of many brutally poetic moments in the script, adapted by Dennis Lehane from his short story “Animal Rescue.” Lehane, of course, is the criminal mastermind behind such previously adapted-for-the-screen novels Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone, and he also wrote for The Wire. And this script is every bit as good as those gems.

Tom Hardy matches Gandolfini scene for brilliant scene as Bob Saginowski, the seemingly simple-minded bartender cousin of Marv who adopts an abused puppy and winds up getting romantically involved with its psychotic former owner’s girlfriend (Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who’s much better-used in an English-speaking role here than she was in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus). Hardy is a true vocal and physical chameleon; there are almost no traits shared between Bob and the title character he played in Locke, a Welsh construction exec whose life comes collapsing down around him during a series of car-phone conversations. I recently interviewed Hardy about Locke for the SAG Foundation and found him to be charmingly unguarded, and I eagerly await his upcoming roles as Elton John, Mad Max and the identical-twin British gangsters the Kray brothers. (Now, that’s range!)

The Drop was solidly directed by Michaël R. Roskam, a Belgian who earned a best foreign film Oscar nomination for his debut feature, 2011’s Bullhead. That title could easily apply to Hardy’s or Gandolfini’s character in The Drop as well, and while Animal Rescue is also a great title, I can understand why they changed it for the movie. By any name, The Drop sadly marks Gandolfini’s ultimate career peak.

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