Gandolfini bows out in style
The Drop (MA15+) National release Let’s Be Cops (MA15+) National release
FEW of us have a perfect script for our final act and so it was with two of the great screen actors of recent times, Philip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini, who left us, unexpectedly and still young, in the past year or so. Yet in their posthumously released final major film roles, Hoffman and Gandolfini have left work that does them proud. Hoffman was outstanding as the volatile spymaster in the John le Carre thriller A Most Wanted Man. And now we have The Drop, a gangster film that is elevated above that genre by the presence of Gandolfini, just as he pushed The Sopranos beyond, well, everything that came before.
Gandolfini is Marv, a bearish man who could be mistaken for Tony Soprano until you see the permanent uncertainty in his eyes. He used to own a bar in Brooklyn but lost it to Chechen mobsters, who allowed him to stay on as figurehead (the joint is called Cousin Marv’s) and employee. The bar is tended by his cousin, Bob, played by the remarkable English actor Tom Hardy, who is the still centre of the film.
Cousin Marv’s is one of several “drops bars” in the neighbourhood: places where the Chechens park their ill-gotten gains. Bob handles the drops poker-faced. He knows what he’s doing but it’s none of his business. He’s just a bartender. Or is he? The slow revelation of Bob’s character, a process stretched taut by Hardy’s deliberately impassive and inarticulate performance, is the key to this drama, which is the Hollywood debut of Belgian director Michael Roskam.
We get a hint early on when Marv is griping about the “Chechians” and Bob corrects him, without humour: “They’re Chechens, not Chechians. You don’t call people from Ireland Irelandians.” To our surprise, big Marv wears it, and we begin to suspect there is more to Bob, and less to Marv, than meets the eye.
The Drop is written by American novelist Dennis Lehane, based on his short story Animal Rescue. The animal in question is a pit bull puppy, which Bob finds, beaten and left for dead in a garbage bin. With the help of a neighbour, Nadia (Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), he nurses the dog back to health. He begins a tentative friendship, perhaps romance, with the clearly damaged Nadia.
The source of Nadia’s damage (and the dog’s for that matter) soon turns up in the form of the probably psychotic Eric Leeds (Matthias Schoenaerts, star of Roskam’s foreign language Oscar-nominated Bullhead). Eric wants the girl and the pooch returned to him. At the same time, two masked men hold up the bar and make off with $5000 in Chechen cash. This brings mobsters Chovka (an unnerving Michael Aronov) and Andre (Morgan Spector) into the action, along with Detective Torres (John Ortiz), who investigates the heist.
And so we have these various, mainly malevolent, forces converging, Ocean’s Eleven- like, towards a climax, but without the jokes.
Lehane has had a lot of success turning his novels into films, headed by the Oscar-winning Mystic River (directed by Clint Eastwood) and including Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island. But it is his work on the television series The Wire that particularly resonates through the desolate urban setting and desperate, untidy lives of The Drop.
Hardy is one of those chameleon actors who surely can do anything. When Torres says, “No one ever sees you coming, do they Bob?” it seems a good description of the character and the actor. I can’t wait to see him next year in the film we have been waiting 30 years for, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Yet this more modest film belongs to Gandolfini. His final moments on screen would be haunting no matter what, but are profoundly so because we know this time there is no coming back. I MENTIONED Mad Max a moment ago. Well, Luke Greenfield’s Let’s Be Cops takes its cues from a different Mel Gibson franchise: the Lethal Weapon movies. It also taps into the common male fantasy, and here I do speak for myself, of being a cop for a day, preferably a heavily armed one, and raining down righteous justice on drivers who change lanes without indicating and other evildoers.
Justin (Damon Wayans Jr) and Ryan (Jake Johnson) are roommates who, on the cusp of 30, realise their lives are going nowhere. They’re from Ohio but have been trying to make it in Los Angeles. Justin’s an unsuccessful video game designer and Ryan’s a washed-up high school quarterback whose last paid gig was in TV commercial for herpes prevention.
Their lives take a turn when they mistake a masquerade party for a costume party and turn up in police uniforms that Justin used to pitch a cop-themed game to his supercilious boss. They are ridiculed at the party but later, walking home, are mistaken for real cops and win some of the respect and attention that is sadly lacking in their lives, especially from the ladies.
Ryan decides this is his new life. He buys a used patrol car on eBay and bones up on police procedure via YouTube. Justin is reluctant to join in but is persuaded by the sudden attentions of a waitress he has long fancied.
When they climb into the cop car for the first time, Justin, the black cop, loads Lethal Weapon. “I feel like Danny Glover before he got too old for this shit.’’ Later, the two fake cops are pulled over by two real cops who look, rather hilariously, quite like Gibson and Glover.
And so the pretend cops become involved in a series of escapades that start out small — confiscating dope on the streets and smoking it in front of the amazed yoof — but soon swing out of control as Ryan decides to tackle real criminals, earning the displeasure of the local mobsters (Albanians this time, I believe). There are also some dubious proper cops, headed by a strangely bearded Andy Garcia. At this point Let’s Be Cops loses much of its humour and starts looking like a film Liam Neeson will turn up in any time soon. That’s a pity because the first half, about two doofuses playing police, is funny and occasionally sharp. Johnson and Wayans, costars on the TV comedy New Girl, have a certain comic chemistry, and here they deliver a bit of nonsense that might give you a laugh or two. Where’s the crime in that?
James Gandolfini, left, and Tom Hardy in The Drop