James Gandolfini’s last film, “The Drop,” with a script written by Boston native, Dennis Lehane, from his short story of the same name, was a revelation: how have I not been more aware of the film’s star, Thomas Hardy? His modulated performance requires patience and commitment–no ADHD allowed here. A few herrings in shades of pink appear throughout the film, both in dialogue, and in unsubtle screen shots. But even noir-soaked experts will probably not see what’s coming: Hardy will ambush you. Unlike many, who stand outside the material, winking, to let you know that they are not really “fill-in-the-blank” (stupid, evil, heartless, etc.), this actor is so trusting, so invested in the pace of his character that, if you cannot keep up or slow down, you’d better get off the ride. This may not be a man you have met before: working-class; uneducated; probably developmentally delayed; isolated; with relationships you could count on one hand (two with family members, one with a pit bull). His much older cousin (by sixteen years) is his unlikely partner, Gandolfini’s “George” to Hardy’s “Lenny”. Yes, this duo is reminiscent of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” (I thought this was an original observation, until I read the latimes.com piece by Steven Zeitchik; though he got the play’s title wrong). “Lenny” the gentle giant is Hardy’s “Bob” (though, at six feet one, he and Gandolfini are the same height). Their relationship is contentious, but they are family. There is an odd tension here, and the seat of power seems to vacillate back and forth between them. Who is really in charge, really running the show, staged in the bar where they both work, owned by “Marv” (Gandolfini)?
Hardy has the more difficult task, because we recognize “Tony Soprano” / “Marv”, on his way down. But “Bob” is enigmatic, inscrutable, slowly helping to build a visceral sense of foreboding, beyond what the bad guys summon up, aka Chechen mobsters: we’re not in Jersey anymore. This actor carries himself in the slow, slump-shouldered manner, and talks with the measured cadence, of a man in a sheltered workshop; going through his rote tasks (of bartender), night after night after night, he interacts with the clientele minimally, doing his job by the numbers. Other than a rescue dog who whimpers onto his radar, and his verbally abusive cousin, we see little connection between him and any other warm mammal (he eventually casts a wider social net, thanks to his canine co star). He is a bundle of contradictions–we just don’t know it yet.
This film coats Marine Park, Brooklyn in the bleakly slimy, muddy tones that define film noir, populating it with corrupt characters we, the voyeuristic viewer, only meet on screen (hopefully). They do exist, and you should pay a visit to “Marv’s Bar” to experience them up close and personal, from the safety of your cineplex seat.