Tony Soprano's swan song.
James Gandolfini's wintry silences and bitter outbursts are just enough to merit seeing The Drop, director Michaël R. Roskam's slice of crime life set in Brooklyn. In a way, this is Tony Soprano's swan song, but there's one important difference: Here the late Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a beaten-down dive-bar owner who owes the local Chechen Mafia a lot of dough. If nothing else, the film -- and Gandolfini's performance -- are a display of weary grace notes that Sopranos fans will want to observe.
Dennis Lehane adapted his short story "Animal Rescue" to create The Drop's script, and the film feels like a short story in ways both good and bad. The good: It's tightly wound, concise and compact, like Tom Hardy's taciturn bartender, Bob. The bad: Motivations and allegiances, such as those between the churchgoing barkeep and the righteously Catholic detective (John Ortiz) who arrives after the bar is robbed at gunpoint, feel inadequate. That robbery sets off a chain of events that don't fully show their purpose until the film's staccato ending. By this time, you'll be fed up with the minuscule crumbs of information Lehane has doled out, or you'll find you've deduced the characters' backstories on your own.
The real reason to catch The Drop is Hardy's mesmerizing turn as Bob, a stray of a man who discovers a savagely beaten pit bull pup in a trash can and adopts him. It seems every character in this film is somebody's woeful, misbegotten dog, even Nadia (Noomi Rapace), the wary neighbor whose garbage can contains the aforementioned pup. And they're all in a cage of their own design at some point.
Who on earth would put a pup in the garbage? Eric Deeds, a rumored murderer, sociopath and -- natch -- Nadia's ex. Rapace does well in a role that, frankly, doesn't consist of much. As Deeds, Matthias Schoenaerts reprises some of the madness he displayed in Roskam's Bullhead, to grim and grimy effect.
But for all its ragged brio and canine-centered existentialism, The Drop falls just shy of genuine neo-noir nastiness, in part because the characters' motivations are too vague. This film barks and bites, but it doesn't leave a mark.