Toronto International Film Festival: James Gandolfini's swansong is a satisfying thriller co-starring Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy is steadily proving to be one of the most versatile actors of his generation, constantly extending a range that stretches from Batman baddie and Bronson swagger to the gentle tour-de-force of Locke and now, in this tough Brooklyn thriller, he seems to be channelling Robert Mitchum, or Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.
The American debut of Bullhead director Michaël R Roskam is based on Dennis Lehane's short story 'Animal Rescue', with a screenplay adapted by Lehane himself. It starts as an eccentric slow burner that seems happy to just hang out with some of the Runyonesque characters who populate a rundown working-class Brooklyn, but when all the pieces start to click into place it develops into a smart, satisfying thriller.
Cousin Marv's is a neighbourhood dive that serves as a dropping point for some of the 'dirtiest money in the city'. Marv (James Gandolfini) has been forcibly retired by a new generation of Chechen gangsters but is still allowed the pretence of running the place. His cousin Bob (Hardy) is his loyal bartender. Bob is a big, warm-hearted lunk who attends church but never takes confession and has a soft spot for stray dogs and damsels in distress. That's what brings him into the life of local waitress Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and her violent boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts).
Lehane's punchy dialogue and the brooding atmosphere keep you watching even as you fear The Drop might not amount to anything substantial but this is a film that's just waiting to strike and tighten its screws. The ghosts of the past and violent menace of the present eventually clash in a suspenseful climax, all the more tense for the crisp editing and an urgent score by Marco Beltrami and Raf Keunen. Add to that a deceptively affable final big screen performance from Gandolfini and The Drop has you in its thrall.
Screening as part of TIFF 2014. General release from Fri 14 Nov.