Tom Hardy is fast becoming his generation's Robert De Niro. Following a breakout role as the titular deranged lifer in biopic Bronson, he has cemented his reputation with strong supporting work in the likes of Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Lawless, while above-the-title roles in Warrior and Locke have proven his unique talents as a leading man. As the villainous Bane, he even managed to steal Batman sequel The Dark Knight Rises from Christian Bale.
Hardy's latest effort is this gritty thriller from Belgian director Michaël R Roskam (Bullhead). The London-born actor adopts a typically idiosyncratic New York accent to play Bob Saginowski, a seemingly benign barman at a Brooklyn 'drop bar' - gangster vernacular for a bar where money gets laundered. It's run by his cousin, Marv, a bluff, bear-like bruiser, essayed by James Gandolfini in his final screen role.
When the aptly monikered Cousin Marv's gets held up by a pair of inept crooks one evening, a tangled web of double, triple and quadruple crosses ensues, variously involving Matthias Schoenaerts's mentally unbalanced local hoodlum, John Ortiz's knowing detective and a cabal of cartoonish Chechen underworld bosses. (If the 1980s' bad guy of choice was a well-spoken Englishman, in the 2010s, it's surely a bearded, beady-eyed Eastern European).
Everyone is 'playing' everyone else, and for much of the running time, the audience is as in the dark about who's got 'the drop' on whom as the characters on screen are.
Meanwhile, Bob falls for a pitbull pup named Rocco and Noomi Rapace's beleaguered Nadia, in that order. Hardy is superb throughout, and the real-life animal lover handles the subplot with the abused pooch nicely.
Gandolfini - who sadly looks far from a picture of health in the film - gives a solid performance, but Marv is the kind of character the late actor could have played in his sleep. The Drop doesn't harm his legacy, but it's a shame last year's Enough Said didn't remain his swansong. The multiple awards-nominated romantic comedy offered a change of pace and really showed Gandolfini's range.
For her part, Rapace nails the low-key romantic elements, injecting spikiness and intrigue into a slightly underwritten role.
Adapted by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island) from his 2009 short story, Animal Rescue, The Drop has its share of graphic violence, but the writer is more interested in people than action set-pieces. Roskam juggles the various plot threads masterfully, and only the most cynical viewer could claim to see all the twists and turns coming.
It's nothing that's going to change the course of cinema, but The Drop is a solidly put together, consistently entertaining piece of work, and it could be our last chance to see Hardy before his headlining role in next year's Mad Max reboot doubtless elevates him to superstar status.
Oh, and the movie's message about responsible dog ownership picks up The Drop some extra points.