The Drop

If you’re a fan of adorable things happening in grim settings, you should know that Tom Hardy adopts a puppy in “The Drop,” an average crime drama that is otherwise serious and not at all puppy-like. Although he does find the puppy in a garbage can, which is more in line with the rest of the movie’s gloominess.

Hardy is the standout in this mediocre offering, a posh, London-born actor playing a lowly Brooklyn bartender with the authenticity of a native. It isn’t just the accent (though that’s harder to get right than a lot of actors make it seem) but the mannerisms, the vocal tics, that make his character — named Bob Saginowski, of course — come to life.

Bob works at a dive called Cousin Marv’s Bar, owned by a typical blue-collar striver named Marv (James Gandolfini) who actually does happen to be Bob’s cousin. Like many Brooklyn bars (or so we are led to understand), Cousin Marv’s has in recent years come under the control of Chechen mobsters, who use it as a money-laundering operation. A frustrated Marv has little choice but to go along with it, while Bob tries to keep his head down and his nose clean. Bob don’t want no trouble.

Two unrelated things happen that bring trouble to Bob anyway. One is that Cousin Marv’s is robbed by masked gunmen (“Do you know whose money you’re jackin’ here?” Marv asks in disbelief), which brings the unwelcome attention of a nosy police detective (John Ortiz). The other thing is that Bob finds a pit bull puppy, abused and whimpering, in a garbage can outside the home of a young woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace), who most certainly did not put the poor li’l fella there and is as appalled about it as Bob is. Bob and Nadia become tentative friends, and we wait to see how this cute development figures in to the larger story (don’t worry, it does).

A seemingly humble man of few words and little education, Bob has a Rocky Balboa vibe about him (which is enhanced by his chaste courtship of the bookish Nadia), plus a little of Brando’s Terry Malloy from “On the Waterfront.” And like the pit bull puppy he rescued, Bob is subject to prejudicial assumptions about his character when in fact violent tendencies are a matter of nurture, not nature. The nosy detective is savvy enough to know that Cousin Marv’s is connected to the Chechens, and subsequent grisly developments turn up the heat on everyone professing innocence or ignorance. The question is whether Bob is smart enough to stay out of the whole mess.

It comes from a short-story-turned-screenplay by Dennis Lehane, a crime novelist whose work has been turned into movies before (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone”) but who has not adapted his own work until now. As you might expect from a screenplay based on a short story — adapted by a first-time screenwriter, no less — “The Drop” is formulaic and simple, uninterested in breaking new ground, or even in treading the old ground in a new way. The director, Belgium’s Michael R. Roskam (whose stellar “Bullhead” was Oscar-nominated a few years ago), tells the story capably but without distinction.

No, it’s Tom Hardy who makes “The Drop” worth seeing (or at least not worth actively avoiding), aided by the late James Gandolfini in a Tony Soprano-ish role that should evoke fond smiles from all who remember him. Gandolfini is in his element, of course; the chameleonic Hardy is far out of his, yet delivers an impressively heartfelt and natural performance. The power to turn a so-so script into a half-decent movie with nothing but one’s own acting prowess and personal magnetism is a mighty power indeed.

B- (1 hr., 46 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, some strong violence and grisly images.)

Originally published at GeekNation.