REVIEW: “The Drop” (2014)

Tom Hardy has taken tough guy portrayals to new levels. Some actors naturally lean towards playing tough characters. It’s hard to see them as anything else. Hardy has that lean but he has managed to offer a number of cool variations. He has played a comic book villain, an MMA fighter, a moonshiner, and a Cold War Russian Agent just to name a few. In “The Drop” he gives us yet another bend to the tough guy character and just as before he does it exceptionally well.

“The Drop” is a Brooklyn crime drama based on a Dennis Lehane short story. Lehane also wrote the screenplay with Michaël R. Roskam directing. Hardy plays a inner city bartender named Bob Saginowski. He works at “Cousin Marv’s”, a bar ran by his appropriately named cousin (played by James Gandolfini in his final role). Marv recently handed his bar to Chechen gangsters who now use it as a drop for money they have coming in.

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At closing time two hoods rob the place at gunpoint stealing a load of the Chechen’s money. The gangsters hold Marv and Bob responsible leading them to desperately search for a way out of their predicament. Marv is bullish and old school in his approach to things while Bob is much quieter and a bit of an introvert. This effects how each go about handling what appears to be a dire situation.

Bob is the main character and we learn a lot about him through a dog (of all things). He finds the abused pup in a trashcan belonging to a neighbor named Nadia (Noomi Rapace). The two spark a reluctant relationship which is complicated by her estranged thuggish boyfriend Eric (well played by Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts). The intensity ratchets up as Bob’s bar troubles and his relationship with Nadia come dangerously close to colliding.

Lehane’s script simmers and never allows the story to blow up into an everyday crime thriller. Roskam’s direction keeps thing under control and allows the script and the actors room to work among the seeping tension. I kept expecting it to turn towards the obvious and conventional. It never does. It’s surprisingly calculated and strategic in how it sets up and delivers its story points.

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It also doesn’t hurt to have two superb lead performances. Hardy comes across as strikingly genuine and natural – a seamless and perfect fit for his character. Galdolfini’s work is a clear but sad reminder of his immense talents in front of the camera. His ability to absorb the audience in the complexities of his Marv character is a key to the film’s success.

It could be said that there is nothing particularly new or profound about “The Drop”. It’s hard to argue against that view. But at the same time it is a well-made film that may be small in cinematic stature but big in terms of smart and precise storytelling. Toss in a fine cast to help tell your story and the results are sure to be even more promising. Such is the case with “The Drop”.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

“Rust and Bone” – 3.5 STARS

RUST PosterThere are several things that attracted me to “Rust and Bone” but nothing more than seeing Marion Cotillard take on another challenging role. To me, Cotillard is one of the best female actresses working today and she has never shied away from a difficult or demanding performance. That’s certainly the case in “Rust and Bone”, a French language picture from director Jacques Audiard. Audiard’s last directed film was 2009’s “A Prophet” so I expected this to be a bit gritty. But in the end it was his grittiness and edginess that kept me from absolutely loving this movie.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I do like “Rust and Bone”. There’s such a harsh reality to Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain’s script and the incredibly committed performances are essential to bringing us into the fragile and stained worlds of Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stéphanie (Cotillard). But as in real life, there are some things I don’t need to see over and over again and I felt Audiard’s desire to be edgy sometimes took away from the much better story at the heart of “Rust and Bone”.

The story revolves around two struggling people whose lives cross paths. We first see Alain as a single father with no money or home. He and his son Sam (Armand Verdure) end up crashing at his sisters house in a poor part of Antibes, France. He moves from one low-paying job to another while still holding out hope of reviving his kickboxing career. While working as a bouncer at a nightclub he has a brief encounter with Stéphanie. She works with killer whales at a Sea World type tourist park. Later during a performance there is a terrible accident which leaves Stéphanie as a double amputee. With her lower legs gone, she sinks into a world of deep depression. She reconnects with Alain and the two begin a peculiar relationship centered around two different sets of needs.

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“Rust and Bone” rarely offers the audience an opportunity to smile. It deals with tough issues and never adds an ounce of sugarcoating or melodrama. When it uses this approach to advance the plot the film is very effective. And that’s not to say the movie lacks heart. There are a few scenes that do lift your spirits and they drive you to root for these characters and their individual transformations. You find your self invested in Alain and Stéphanie even if you don’t particularly like them all the time. This is in large part due to the performances from Cotillard and Schoenaerts. There isn’t one bit of insincerity in these performances and you’ll never doubt them for a second. Cotillard continues to amaze me with her subtlety and ability to express genuine emotion through her expressions. Here she gives an intense yet grounded performance. The only distraction from the actor’s work comes from the movie’s persistent focus on the edgier part of their relationship. For me, Audiard goes to the proverbial well one too many times.

I also have to mention the insanely good CGI work and visual trickery used to make Cotillard look as if she has no legs. If you weren’t familiar with the actress you would never know otherwise. It’s that convincing. Of course I don’t have to explain how essential that is to making the story work. Much of the film deals with her struggling and dealing with her handicap and I was amazed at how visually impressive it looked.

“Rust and Bone” could be called an unconventional love story but that’s cutting it short. There’s so much more going on in this film and most of it works great. There’s some fantastic technique at work behind the camera and the performances are brilliant. But my overall experience with the film was brought down a bit by some pointless content that wasn’t just distracting but that caused things to drag a bit. A tighter script and a broader focus could have made this good film even better. Nevertheless there is some solid storytelling here and the raw emotion that it leaves you with says a lot about the movie.