It's not often that the appearance of Tom Hardy in a film doesn't grab all the headlines, but it has taken the death of his co-star to displace the usual Hardy hullabaloo. Sadly The Drop will be remembered for one thing, and one thing only, and that's for being the last film James Gandolfini starred in, having died earlier this year in Rome, aged 51.
The New Jersey-born actor will always be fondly remembered for his striking portrayal of Tony Soprano in the HBO TV series The Sopranos. But since 2007, when that show came to an end, Gandolfini quietly embarked on more film roles. Although this isn't the best of the bunch, he still gives a supremely watchable performance.
A small bar in Brooklyn, known as Cousin Marv's, is run by Marv (Gandolfini) and his barman Bob (Hardy). It's most definitely a local bar for local people, and the pair of them go about their business with little fuss.
That is, until the bar gets robbed. Bob noticed a watch that one of the robbers was wearing and mentions it to the police. In retrospect, it's something he should have kept to himself, and that's certainly the opinion of the Chechen mob that owns the bar. They want their money back, and expect Marv and Bob to do just that.
Meanwhile, Bob finds a pit bull puppy in a trash can and it's been beaten up badly. He knocks on a door nearby for help and meets Nadia (Noomi Repace); she tells him that because it's considered a dangerous breed, if he takes it to the authorities, they'll put it down. Although he's not comfortable with the idea of having a dog – it's a big responsibility after all – he asks Nadia if she'll look after him for a week while he thinks about what to do next. She agrees.
While taking the puppy – who he names Rocco – for a walk, a guy comes up to him and tells him he has a nice dog. A comment about how cute your puppy is wouldn't normally set off alarm bells, but there's something not quite right about this guy. Bob has good reason to be wary of this character, Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), as he was actually Rocco’s previous owner and the cause of his extensive injuries.
On top of all this, the Chechens inform Marv and Bob that the bar has been chosen as the drop off point for fellow mobsters to deposit large amounts of cash, which is tantamount to painting a huge target symbol on the bar, on the busiest night of their year no less, with the Super Bowl taking place.
The one thing that Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam can't be accused of with his second feature is poor casting; it seems that any director would give several bodily appendages to sign Hardy up for a film. And Gandolfini, with his background in mob activity on the small screen, is a perfect match for both the script and as an acting counterweight to Hardy.
But a great cast doesn't necessarily equate to a great film. The script has a slow pace about it that is far from agreeable; it's stodgy and clumsy, mostly in an attempt to be smarter than it is, which it fails at.
And then there's Hardy; he's talented, for sure, yet he proves yet again that he has an acting Achilles' Heel he's still yet to overcome: subtlety, or more accurately, a lack of it. It's never more evident than here; whilst Hardy is furiously working hard dialling up his performance in every scene to make sure he gets noticed, Gandolfini is dialling down, offering a beautifully balanced and nuanced take on his character, which just comes across as so much more natural. Less really can be more and at some point, some director will have to grow a pair and tell Hardy how it is.
Although it will be mostly remembered for being Gandolfini's final big screen appearance, it won't be remembered as one of his best. Certainly his previous film to this one, the delightful Enough Said, could be a real contender. And one that Hardy could learn or thing or two from.
The Drop then, much like Hardy's career to date, promises more than it actually delivers.