Gan­dolfini bows out in style

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei

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

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