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By Elias Savada | September 12, 2014

In “The Drop,” Tom Hardy, that marvelous chameleon of an actor, furls his brow, lowers his eyes, and drops his native British accent in favor of a low-key New York mumble, as his Bob Saginowski follows a daily routine, bar-tending at his cousin’s Brooklyn establishment.  There’s something troubling brewing underneath Bob’s sad-eyed and stubbled facade.

When he’s not slinging drinks, he’s slumbering about, helping his insensitive cousin Marv, played by the late James Gandolfini (his final performance). How insensitive? Well, the film covers the days just after Christmas through Super Bowl Sunday. It’s December 27th and Marv is wondering why Bob hasn’t taken down the holiday decorations yet. Yeah, heartless.

Marv’s got a criminal history too, you’ll discover. Bob, a daily churchgoer who always forgoes communion, still cares, in his own peculiar, withdrawn, heroic way, for the righteous among us. Especially when the innocent are menaced by the criminals that surround the bar (a group of slicked-back Chechens), or by one Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), an abusive ex-con and ex-boyfriend of insecure waitress Nadia (Swedish actress Noomi Rapace a.k.a. Lisbeth Salander in the original foreign language “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy). Deeds has also picked on a pit bull pup that Bob rescues from a trash can in front of Nadia’s home. That dog’s discovery leads to a series of escalating encounters between Bob, Nadia, and the very off-kilter Deeds, among others, that push the film along until its “killer twist,” a phrase the film’s advertising material pushes in your face.

Hardy attracts your attention to his intense, seemingly slow-witted character, but ever so subtly and mysteriously, distancing himself from such characters as the dedicated family man (“Locke,” 2013) caught in a domestic conundrum; Forrest Bondurrant’s fierce Depression-era Virginia bootlegger in 2012’s “Lawless“; the deceptive Eames, in the tentpole “Inception“; or, in the trilogy-ending “The Dark Knight Rises,” the bald, villainous, mask-wearing Bane. He’s such a deeply immersive thespian. Prolific and talented (Among his forthcoming roles? The gangster Kray brothers in Brian Helgeland’s “Legend,” Max Rockatansky in the next “Mad Max” film, Elton John in “Rocketman,” and Al Capone in “Cicero”).

This first English-language feature from Oscar-nominated Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam is a follow-up to “Bullhead,” his debut feature, which earned a finalist slot in the Best Foreign Language Film category. He’s brought along the star of that earlier film (Schoenaerts, also seen opposite Marion Cotillard in “Rust and Bone“) as well as his director of photography (Nicolas Karakatsanis). Roskam and his crew have created a real nice microcosm filled with noirish dread.

It helps that the script is derived in part from the short story “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane, the creative writer that brought us three well-filmed novels (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Shutter Island”), but all the more because of the gritty screenplay, also by Lehane (his first). Rostam plays nicely with the wintry aspects of the production design (by Thérèse DePrez), with a Springtime postscript that blossoms with a bright yellow Forsythia.

Among other cast members who pop in and out include TV, movie, and off-Broadway regular John Ortiz as a studious New York City detective, Ann Dowd (I love her in “The Leftovers”) as Marv’s slightly over-bearing sister, and Michael Aronov as a nasty gangster.

I did wonder why the bar was seemingly so understaffed (or that you never really glimpse any of the other co-workers of Bob and Marv, especially in the kitchen), but it’s a minor issue compared to the melancholy mood, intensifying suspense, and working-class characters with which Roskam is flavoring his film. After a hum-drum year of wannabe crime thrillers (and movies in general), it’s nice to see something elevated above the norm.

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