Review: “The Drop” 2.15.15

“The Drop” is the first English language film by Belgian director Michael R. Roskam of the Oscar nominated film “Bullhead” (2011) which garnered a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the 2012 Academy Awards. “Bullhead” was a great character study that featured a phenomenal breakthrough performance by Matthias Shoenaerts. The type of actor who after watching that film I just knew it was just going to be a matter of time before the call of Hollywood came coming. Which is interesting because that’s almost the exact same way I felt after I was first introduced to the main actor in this film, Tom Hardy, a relative unknown until he was introduced to the film world in 2009 in Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Bronson”. Both are foreign (Hardy’s from the UK, Shoenaerts from Belgium) who have recently started to show up in a lot of American films (though Hardy being introduced to us here stateside much earlier in 2010 in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”). When I first heard of this film I heard while it was in development that it teamed Tom Hardy with another foreign actor who has gained quite a bit of notoriety in the United States this past couple of years and who I happen to like – Swedish born Noomi Rapace (who first played Lizbeth Salander in the Swedish trilogy of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and in other high-profile films like “Prometheus” (2012). Then I found out that it was slated to be directed by none other than Roskam himself, in his English language debut. What sealed the deal for me was that it also reteamed him with “Bullhead” star Shoenaerts, and was based on a screenplay from novelist Dennis Lehane, most notable for his book to screen translations like “Mystic River” (2003), “Gone Baby Gone” (2007), and “Shutter Island” (2010). So with a pedigree of this kind I figured I would be in for something special.

The film introduces us to Bobby (played by Hardy) who in an opening montage explains to us how this “drop” concept works in that basically all of the local bars in Brooklyn are run by the Chechen Mob, who scheduled certain deposits of money at any given bar on any given night. Bobby tends bar at his cousin Marv’s (in the great James Gandolfini’s last performance) who used to own the place until the Mob took over. It becomes clear early on that the Chechen Mob and its messenger, Chovka, pretty much run the entire territory. Especially when on one unsuspecting night 2 men visit the bar in hoods and masks and rob Bobby and Marv of $5,000. Except since the bar really isn’t “owned” by Cousin Marv anymore the money needs to be paid back. It seems like a mere coincidence that Bobby should happen to stumble upon a whimpering puppy in a garbage can shortly after, and is introduced to the woman who owns the home Nadia (played by Rapace), who he forms a sort of bond with after the both discover the pup and both decide to take care of it. That’s until the ex-con, recently released out of prison, mentally ill nutcase Eric comes into the picture (played ruthlessly by Shoenaerts) and claims the dog to be his demanding 10 grand from Bobby or else he will report it being stolen. It is through these many relationships and interpersonal dynamics that as each character is revealed, we are shown a much different side to them as well as their real motivations with one another, than we’re lead to believe up to that point.

While this was another solid entry into the crime-drama genre, it felt a little bit all too familiar to other films of its kind that have come out of the genre (David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” (2007) comes to mind). The story itself is involving enough, as we’re presented with a decent enough story and an above average script. With all the actors involved doing serviceable enough jobs but nobody really sticking out with the exception of maybe Hardy’s character, who’s restrained, solemn, quiet character who we first are led to think might be a little naive, only to change faces about two-thirds of the way into the film in where we’re finally (after much waiting around) able to see his true self. Second to that would be Shoenaerts, who is always a pleasure to see pop up on-screen, and who plays both ruthless and menacing pretty well here. Gandolfini plays well, Gandolfini, who following his work on the hit TV show “The Sopranos” I always felt like it was unfortunate as being typecast into these kinds of roles (similar to how I feel about someone like Ray Liotta post-Martin Scorcese’s “Goodfellas” (1990)). Rapace does a good enough job in the barely fleshed out character she’s written as. As for the story, I felt like it did a fairly decent enough job juggling a number of different characters in the story and for the most part did a clever enough job keeping the audience second guessing, which had my attention until it came to the last half hour or so, at which time I started to get the feeling like it was going to have a predictable outcome to the story. And it did, at least for me anyway. There are character’s involvements into the shady going-ons in the story that are supposed to come as a surprise that really weren’t all that surprising to me. Except for when Hardy’s character Bobby reveals himself to show his true colors. But at that point it all came at just a bit too little too late. This was a fairly good, though as mentioned predictable entry to the genre that I would recommend to fans of it, but I think a lot of other people might be turned off by its familiar storyline and script. Certainly worth a rental but not something that you’re going to want to write home about once its through.

[B-]

Review: ‘Obvious Child’ 10.11.14

It’s interesting that I should come off a new Woody Allen film with this one up next in the cannon. The reason why I say this is because Allen is considered the first writer/director in American cinema who really started writing strong female characters in film with Diane Keaton acting as his muse. Which is one of the many things I admire about him. If you think about the entertainment industry its always been a predominately male driven one. If you want proof of this look no further than even to this day where there are just a handful of well known women directors. That and when most people talk about or list off who their favorite “actor” is (yes people women are considered actors too) they usually list off a group of men. That’s why I always become interested when I see a movie come along that boasts a mostly female cast (1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” being one of the all time greats). Or in the case of this film, focuses primarily on the trials and tribulations of one woman. Being in that I am a member of the opposite sex, I find it’s important to seek out films that identify with the experience of being a woman. So often in film women are put on screen only to be objectified (see Megan Fox) and reduced to mere eye candy. Which I think is really rather unfortunate. When I first heard about this film, like with most films, it was by seeing a trailer for it before another. I didn’t really recognize anyone in it other than Gaby Hoffman, who I had recently seen and absolutely loved in last year’s “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus”. That and it looked like it had the potential to be really funny. What sealed the deal for me was the fact that it not only looked like a lighthearted comedy, but one with true spirit; and most importantly, one that focused on a strong central female character. Having not gotten the chance to see it in theaters I put a high priority on seeing it as soon as it came out on DVD.

The film first introduces us to Donna (played by Jenny Slate), a young woman in her late twenties who moonlights as a comic in Brooklyn while she works at her day job at a local bookstore. After a performance one night she is approached by her boyfriend who explains that he’s been cheating on her which completely overwhelms and devastates her. To top if off the following morning at her day job her boss tells her that he’s closing shop. So in a span of 24 hours she gets dumped and her only steady source of income is gone. Donna seeks solace in her best friend (played by Hoffman), her supportive and understanding father, as well as her not so supportive, higher standard, but equally as loving mother. She appears to be going through some mid quarter life crisis and falls into self deprecation. Then on one drunken and off performance night out she meets Max, a guy who while although isn’t really her type, conveniently shows up at a time when she’s most vulnerable. She winds up going home with him (in a dance party sequence that’s pure gold) and has a one night stand, which at that point the central plot of the story begins as she becomes faced with one of life’s most difficult decisions.

This is a wonderful film that I had really good time with. It left me feeling similarly to how I felt after 2012’s brilliant film by Noah Baumbach – “Frances Ha” which also focused on another strong female central character played by the superb Greta Gerwig. Like Gerwig, Jenny Slate is mesmerizing in her role here, and also like Gerwig in that film, plays the character with an authenticity that really comes through in her performance. I also thought it was raw, heartfelt, and tenderly funny, without feeling melodramatic or too full of sentiment. Donna is equally as funny in both her on and off stage personas. The conversations she has with her friends and family as well as her audience produces some genuine laughs about her ruminations on life. Also, the relationship that unfolds with the unassuming Max feels real in a way that is often times hard to capture in similar type relationships I’ve seen depicted in other movies of its kind. There’s also a great bit part featuring David Cross which I was surprised by but I thought fit perfectly in the context of the film. My only couple of minor criticisms is that there’s a coincidence that turns up involving Max that to me seemed a bit far fetched. Very similar to how I felt about the coincidence involving both Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in last year’s “Enough Said”. Also, I felt like the story could have been expanded on a little, which felt a bit short and breezy as it zipped by at a brisk 80 minutes. But despite those two pretty minor critiques, this is a film bursting with energy and real true human feeling and emotion. That and as mentioned above, and what I think deserves to be noted twice, it features a bravura performance by the little known Slate who I can potentially see gaining some awards attention at the year’s end by some of the smaller indie-friendly critic’s circles. This is a smart, honest, feel good film which is one of the best of its kind that I’ve seen all year. I’ve already added it on my list of Honorable Mentions that should survive and wind up on my end of the year list. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out. I can assure you that it won’t disappoint.

Grade: B+