As a gritty brooding thriller this film ticks all boxes, it feels as silently calm and unassuming as Hardy’s Bob. There are some great slick moments that heighten tension and the pace of the film, but it has to be said that it is a pretty simple plot with no great twist or constant thrill to shake it from the tepid quality of background in story and character, that weighs down a chance for it to be more engaging.
Cousin Marv’s bar in a part of the Brooklyn neigbourhood is picked as a ‘drop’ point for all the laundered money in town. Bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) and Marv himself (James Gandolfini) find themselves robbed one night, losing money left by criminals and so they have to get it back. Bob also has a new trouble in his life concerning a found pup and Nadia’s (Noomi Rapace) presence bringing along a worrying ex. With past deaths and changing hands influencing Marv’s bar an American Football celebration is setting for a concerning bigger drop.
The cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis is moody and grey which runs perfectly with the characters in the movie. Puddle soaked streets and grimy Brooklyn back lots are captured in fine washed out detail opening the thriller angle to a wider degree. On top of this the editing by Christopher Tellefsen and camera work on Superbowl night racks up tension tremendously. Revolving cycles of the camera, dropping packages of money and shorter clipped shots in the bar all come together in unison to bring about an impending sense of dread to what could happen.
Director Michael R. Roskam may slightly get bogged down with the dog life analogy of it all but he certainly knows how to build suspense now and then, and certain shots filled with car headlights or shadowy basements fit bang on in the thriller category. There’s a certain amount of mystery for a while but one big story twist to who organised the robbery is divulged pretty early on leaving the rest of the film with nothing much to unravel. Dennis Lehane’s script is sharply written but it feels saggy with filler of backing story, of course this is needed and a lot of films don’t expand on well scripted backgrounds, but I feel perhaps this goes into certain duller dialogue too often.
The crime thriller it tries to be is quite clear but there isn’t enough magnified focus on that sort of idea to keep it from wafting away into slower less interesting scenes. The places with minimal or no speech really crackle alive as they make the audience as nervous as Bob and Marv could well be. The gang heads coming to intimate certainly make their mark and Nadia’s ex Eric Deeds is a shady bothering presence. The film excels in creating that unease of who can be trusted or not and this is certainly helped along with Marco Beltrami’s bubbling score.
Tom Hardy is on point as the brooding somewhat, at first glance, pathetic Bob character. He has no clue it seems about animals, interactions with ladies or what to say in front of police or criminals. It’s clear under this exterior he must have some deeper thread running through him and Hardy carries this uneven gentle persona with fantastic believabilty. Also, a treat of this film has to be in watching the late great James Gandolfini one last time. He shines on the screen in rubbing egos with Bob and possessing a swagger and mysterious edge to Marv as a no nonsense bar owner. Matthias Schoenaerts is incredibly atmospheric as the constant threatening influence over Nadia and therefore Bob’s life. I didn’t realise it, but he’s from ‘Rust and Bone’ another immersing film that he’s superb in. Noomi Rapace is a great addition to the cast in one of the few female roles of the movie. Her interactions with Hardy are really good and though sharing time and growing bonds over a cute pit bull may be their only obvious connection, she serves as a glimmer of hope and help to Bob.
A shaky end and a quite basic plot are it’s biggest issues but there’s a nice amount of gritty tension on the whole to work with strong acting performances and slow burning broodiness. Rocco may just steal the show however!