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James Gandolfini, left, in his final on screen performance with Tom Harding in “The Drop,” playing in limited release. Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight
James Gandolfini, left, in his final on screen performance with Tom Harding in “The Drop,” playing in limited release. Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight
ArtsRancho Santa Fe

Film Review: ‘The Drop’ is an intriguing crime drama

“The Drop,” with its gritty surroundings and able cast (including James Gandolfini in his final onscreen appearance), proves itself an intriguing crime drama…for select audiences.

When you look at “The Drop,” it doesn’t require much thought to realize it will probably match the interests of a moviegoer possessing a mindset geared towards art-house/alternative cinema.

And for those to whom this Dennis Lehane-written underworld tale will appeal, chances are they’ll be impressed with what they see.

And what’s not to like about “The Drop” when it has actors Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, and Matthias Schoenaerts?

With a cast like that, there’s no question that the film’s premise — a bartender who finds himself entangled in both a robbery gone awry and an investigation that delves into the neighborhood’s residents — will work out just fine.

While the two central story arcs — one revolving around the consequences of the robbery, the other centered on the discovery of an abandoned puppy —may appear disparate at first, they actually become intertwined as the onscreen events continue to unfold.

It is also a relief to see that Hardy manages to fasten the strings of each side together, thereby allowing his fellow cast members from different sections of the neighborhood to share their complicated lives.

As always, the inclusion of a noir atmosphere never ceases to impress me in stories where criminals are a prominent element. Especially when it imbues such a film as this with a slow buildup, gradually exuding tension that culminates in acts of violence.

And what’s just as impressive is this: the violent moments finish as quickly as they start, never resorting to excess.

That being said, I did have a slight initial concern regarding the sense of danger, which, in terms of intensity, tended to oscillate from storyline to storyline, making one seem more foreboding than the other at times.

As much as this appeared to be an error that could’ve potentially compromised the film, that outcome never materialized.

Another important factor I should mention is the international cast itself, all of whom bring a subtle complexity to their characters.

It’s hard not to appreciate Hardy; he provides the film with an emotional resonance by infusing his withdrawn Bob Saginowski with an unassuming heart, buried underneath layers of self-imposed isolation.

Gandolfini has the honor of getting to say the best lines of dialogue and, as the streetwise Cousin Marv, turns in an engaging, nuanced performance that concludes his legacy on a high note.

Rapace succeeds in connecting with Nadia’s wounded and tough sides, and her chemistry with Hardy is convincing; I wouldn’t be surprised if their puppy had something to do with it.

As for Schoenaerts, his understated presence is downright sinister; making the transformation from abusive neighbor to ugly antagonist is not easy, and his use of unspoken threats to get his point across is brilliant.

Like I said earlier, “The Drop” is liable to attract members of the community who are passionate about art-house/alternative material, so unless you fit that moviegoing mold, you’d best wait until it becomes available on the rental market. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a quality film (and Gandolfini’s last); however, as for seeing it on the big screen…well, that’s up to you.

Regardless of the decision you make, “The Drop” will not disappoint.

It is criminally dark and full of suspense, and has a beautiful relationship drama at its core — and marks the final time we will ever get to see James Gandolfini on the big screen.

MPAA rating: R for some strong violence and pervasive language.

Run time: 1 hour 46 minutes

Playing: In limited release