Do we "save" a dog --- or does the dog save us? That's the question at the heart of "The Drop". A beaten and abused Pit Bull puppy found in a trash bin can change the life of the loner who finds him --- a quiet bartender with a dark secret.


Tom Hardy stars as Bob Saginowski, a devout Catholic who attends mass every morning and tends bar every night for his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) at a grimy, neighborhood joint in Brooklyn named Cousin Marv's. Only Marv is no longer the proprietor, the establishment is now owned by a Chechen crime syndicate, and they use it as one of many money-laundering "drops".


En route to work one cold December day, Bob finds an abandoned puppy outside Nadia's (Noomi Rapace) house. Never having had a dog, or being responsible for anyone or anything in his life, Bob is flummoxed at the thought of caring for this little guy. Nadia cleans Rocco, a name chosen by her, and walks poor Bob through the process of dog ownership.


In the meantime, a holdup at Cousin Marv's brings the Chechens around with serious threats against Marv and Bob. They want the five grand taken in the theft --- and they want it now. All of this results in dire consequences, betrayals and unforeseen revelations.


Based on a short story by Dennis Lehane, who also pens the script, "The Drop" is a fairly standard mob crime drama, with Italians being replaced by Chechens and a sweet puppy thrown in as a diversion. This particular story could have been seen during just about any episode of "The Sopranos" --- only it would have been better.


Hardy's Bob is difficult to pinpoint. He's not stupid --- quite the contrary. But Hardy chooses to portray him as almost mentally challenged. I found his performance disturbing and inconsistent. Bob goes to church every day but doesn't go to communion --- so something is amiss. We find out eventually, but at that point, it becomes less of a revelation and more of a plot trying to "twist" too much.


Gandolfini is perfect, but he's really just playing a less classy version of Anthony Soprano. With this being his very last role, the fact that he's back playing a mobster is satisfying, but truly sad. He will never again roll those eyes and jerk his head as if to say get lost, you bozo. He will be missed terribly.


The producers took a calculated risk employing Belgian director Michael R. Roskam for his first American film, and I'm not convinced it paid off. "The Drop" has its tense moments, especially concerning the plight of the Pit Bull puppy, but I was not constantly full of dread as I was when watching any installment of "The Sopranos". Roskam isn't able to pack the wallop that David Chase managed week to week.


Rapace is looking lovely here as Nadia. Hers is the best performance in "The Drop". Though she was totally dynamic as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish versions of the "The Girl" trilogy, it's a nice change to watch her playing a vulnerable character. She's an extremely talented actress, with more interesting roles to follow.


Because this was Gandolfini's last movie, I would love to write that it's an important one, but it is not. If you can live with an okay film just to watch him perform again on the big screen, then go for it.


Opinion: Very Mild See It Now!





James Gandolfini fans won't be disappointed in his final role on a movie screen. He plays a no-nonsense, tough-minded former owner (he now manages) of a neighborhood bar in Brooklyn that bears his name. His bartender is played by Tom Hardy, and it is Hardy's character that tells us, via voice over, that a drop refers to cash deposits delivered to a rotating list of taverns, made by other bar owners --- who are essentially paying for protection from the Russian mob.


Marv (Gandolfini) and his cousin Bob Saginowski (Hardy) run "Cousin Marv's Bar". It's your average dive bar with typically rowdy regular patrons --- translation: middle-aged male football fans. In the opening segment, Bob pours each of them a free shot as they toast to the memory of a long-departed friend. Ten years earlier, their buddy Rich was murdered, and the crime is still unsolved.


One local thug, Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), has long claimed to be the killer, but he has never been charged with the crime. Deeds is one of those bad boys always looking for trouble. When Bob accidentally meets Eric's old girlfriend, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), Eric is not happy, and tries to blackmail Bob over the adorable Pit Bull puppy (sounds like an oxymoron, but it's true) that Bob finds beaten and abandoned in Nadia's trash barrel.


Hardy delivers a truly riveting performance as the apparent nice guy in the hood. How can you not admire someone who takes an injured dog home? He keeps mostly to himself, but underneath that quiet exterior lies something mysterious and volatile, almost sinister. We know his clash with Eric is coming, but how or when we're not sure. That's part of the delicious suspense of the movie.


Rapace, known mostly for her tough persona in the Swedish trilogy, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", etc., comes full circle as the rather sweet and vulnerable ex-girlfriend. The effective characterizations of Nadia and Bob as two people to care about make Deeds --- and he is one scary dude --- that much more threatening.


In "The Drop", Gandolfini is a lot closer to Tony Soprano than virtually any other film role he had tackled before his death. His performance is a sobering reminder that we, as movie lovers, have been deprived of additional thrills he would have provided, had he lived. 


Opinion: See It Now!