Stars: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts
Release date: September 12th, 2014
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time: 106 minutes
Best part: Hardy & Gandolfini.
Worst part: The heavy-handed symbolism.
In the 1990s, TV producer, writer, and director David Chase took a big chance on an intriguing premise. Showcasing one crime family’s good times and bad blood, HBO’s The Sopranos reigned supreme from 1999 to 2007. Thanks to its immense prowess, Hollywood recognised the hype and made many film and TV copycats. Despite the arresting Godfather-like concept, the world became awe-struck by its portly leading man – James Gandolfini.
Tom Hardy & James Gandolfini.
Latching on to The Sopranos and James Gandolfini’s aura, crime-drama The Drop pays tribute to lost people and genres. Honouring the character-actor’s immense career and persona, the movie lingers on many intriguing elements. As the latest in a string of existential crime-thrillers, the movie throws the studio system, the gangster-thriller genre, and Middle America to the wolves. Oddly enough, despite Gandolfini’s immense acclaim, the late Tinseltown icon is not the movie’s lead. In fact, along the way, we uncover several mesmerising aspects. The Droprevolves around one of America’s most dilapidated neighbourhoods. The story focuses on a modest watering hole – tucked inside Brooklyn, New York – known to some of America’s crummiest low-lifes. Cousin Marv’s, housing many strong whiskeys and nasty surprises, is run by socially awkward bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy). Taking orders from Marv (Gandolfini), Bob runs the joint more diligently than his own life. Working extensive shifts, our lead floats through a tiresome routine. Forced to confront unlikable citizens, Bob and Marv understand the rules of the game. Marv, having handed the bar over to the Chechen mob several years earlier, succumbs to immense stress and emotional detachment. Despite the subdued drama, the movie lays everything out on the table.
Embracing its simple-yet-effective premise, The Drop is a chilling and resonant crime-thriller. In fact, the story delves into the ‘drop bar’ world. Used to launder pockets of cash from suspect business dealings, Cousin Marv’s becomes this dynamic narrative’s heart. After a frightening robbery, the movie drops its guard and delivers a moody and philosophical tale. The central plot-line, dealing with the mob wanting its missing $5000 back, propels the otherwise stagnant narrative. Based on Dennis Lehane’s short story Animal Rescue, The Drop relies on Lehane’s style for drama and thrills. Similarly to previous Lehane adaptations, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, visceral moments and comedic riffs complement one another. Subbing multiple players into the game, Bob and Marv become intent on settling the score and keeping everything flowing smoothly. Bob – introduced to a lost, injured puppy and Nadia (Noomi Rapace) within minutes – becomes a fascinating specimen. As our hearts melt for his new four-legged friend, The Drop becomes more approachable and entertaining. Flipping through gangster/crime-thriller tropes, the story occasionally creaks and groans. Compared to recent revenge fantasies including Blue Ruin, Killing Them Softly, and Cold in July, its airlessness and ponderousness may deter some viewers. However, the emotional core remains strong throughout. As Bob and Nadia’s friendship develops, the emotional resonance covers up the glaring flaws.
“There are some sins that you commit, that you can’t come back from, no matter how hard you try.” (Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), The Drop).
Hardy & Matthias Schoenaerts.
Sticking by Lehane’s solid screenplay, director Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead) brings the swagger and tempo. Coming from a distinctive European cinema background, his style delivers succinct and invigorating bursts of energy. Focusing on humanity and humility, his adaptation balances the crime, romance, and violence with panache and vigour. Bringing Bullhead star Matthias Schoenaerts with him from Belgium (playing seedy badass Eric Deeds), the director takes full control. As egos and tempers clash, Roskam fuses typical gangster tropes with peculiar flourishes. Experimenting with light and shadow, the bar setting immediately lights up. Dank and sterile, the establishment is a breeding ground for scum and chaos. Throughout the climax, the overcrowded hangout sees sparks, slurs, and bullets. Roskam’s atmospheric direction crafts an earthy and eclectic version of the suburbs. Depicting Brooklyn’s most disturbing and undignified shades, it pays homage to the early Martin Scorsese era. However, despite Lehane and Roskam’s successes, viewers will fall for our two charismatic leads. Hardy – having brought charm to toughies like Locke, Warrior, and Lawless – fits comfortably into this hard-as-nails role. Switching between blisteringly harsh and endearingly sweet, his nuanced performance – aided by a pitch-perfect accent – is an instant drawcard. Despite playing a similar character to Soprano, Gandolfini deserves credit for his haunting and visceral turn. Sparring with Hardy throughout, the movie shimmers whenever the man sniffles, snorts, and wheezes.
Hardy and Gandolfini’s signature dialogue sequence is worth the admission cost. Marv, outlining his former prowess, reflects upon a time since lost. Showcasing the man’s immense talents, this sequence marks a stellar career cut short. Like our lead characters, The Drop strives for respect and earns it long before its explosive last act. Thanks to the immersive performances, tense set pieces, and attention to detail, this crime-thriller is one of 2014’s most deserving successes.
Verdict: A scintillating and well-crafted crime-thriller.
Stars: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott
Release date: April 18th, 2014
Running time: 84 minutes
Best part: Tom Hardy.
Worst part: The antagonistic boss character.
Over the past few years, cinema has displayed its potential to make the most tedious aspects of life appear invigorating and interesting. Most commonly, this refers to comic books, TV/film/book series’, and true stories. Eclipsing these blockbuster conceivers, the survival/bottle genre takes limited locations, characters, and concepts and develops invigorating narratives and thematically-sound thrill-rides. In British auteur Steven Knight’s new thriller Locke, a car is taken for a spin and pushed to the limit for a full 90 minutes.
Facing such antagonists as highways, freeways, and Give ways, we take major risks whenever we step into our cars. Automobile travel, forcing us to share with others and attack those who refuse to play by the rules, pushes Locke‘s narrative and its straight-laced lead character. Here, the thriller vibe kicks in from the get-go. Overcoming its questionable and, to some, risible premise, Locke is a philosophical, dexterous, and ambitious joyride. Unafraid to stick to its impressionistic conceits, the execution separates Locke from other bottle features of recent memory. Before Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) steps into his car, the audience is introduced to a chilly British night. With Locke’s plight fighting its way to the surface, the first five minutes relish in the premise’s most intriguing ideas. After a long work day, Locke hops into his car ready to face his greatest obstacles. Driving from Birmingham to London, he uses his car-set phone to update people on his status. His wife, Katherine (Ruth Wilson), and their two sons, Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Milner), eagerly await his return. Preparing for a vital soccer match, the beer, sausages, and jerseys are all laid out for the occasion. At the same time, Locke’s lover, Bethan (Olivia Colman), is giving birth to their lovechild in London’s St Mary’s Hospital. Aiming to reach her location before the labor period finishes, Locke’s true feelings become shockingly clear.
More Tom Hardy.
Perplexingly, there are even more pressing concerns for our misfortunate and steady-handed protagonist to deal with. From the opening frame, Knight’s screenwriting and direction merge amicably to deliver an uneasy and relentless creation. In control of this unique experiment, Knight takes theatre and novel tropes and transplants them effortlessly onto the big screen. As, essentially, a one-man show, Locke proves that big-budgets, labyrinthine sets, and multiple plot-lines aren’t always needed to create complex dramatic stories. The narrative, unlike most survival thrillers, avoids cliches, saccharine moments, and ridiculous leaps of logic. This thriller doesn’t put anyone in danger. Instead, the drama examine’s one man’s choices and the ripple effects they’ve created. With his personal and professional lives in disarray, Locke’s 90-minute journey pulls at the heartstrings and throws tempers and allegiances into dangerous tailspins. If his infidelity wasn’t bad enough, Locke abandons his duties as a construction foreman just a few hours before a major concrete pour is set to take place. Known to put 110% into each assignment, his sketchy and unforgivable actions in the present place any future employment prospects in jeopardy. Talking to his boss, Gareth (Ben Daniels), and assistant, Donal (Andrew Scott), over the phone, Locke’s patience and guile amplify the movie’s magnetic and transcendent aura.
“I want to know that I’m not driving in one direction.” (Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), Locke).
Even more Tom hardy!
Bravely, and appropriately, this car-staged thriller talks down to those against Locke’s every decision. This post-GFC drama, depicting honest people carrying out desperate acts for pride and desperation, delivers a heartfelt apology to the working class man from the one percenters. With Knight taking on sensitive characters and gritty topics, his style emphatically supports his lead character’s impulsive decisions. However, despite the well-intentioned effort, the voice-driven antagonists occasionally come off as obvious and treacle. Gareth, screaming every word whilst refusing to listen to Locke’s sound advice, hurriedly becomes an unnecessary hindrance. Thankfully, Knight injects sympathetic and electrifying traits into his lead character. As the epicentre of this crumbling universe, Locke’s witless resolve and steely resilience is worth the price of admission. Pushed by a figment of his imagination – resembling his father – Locke is a intelligent and unhinged presence. Regretful and likeable simultaneously, the titular character anchors this already intense and effortless feature. Hardy – known to take on menacing roles in big-budget features like Lawless, The Dark Knight Rises, and Warrior – insatiably adapts to this subtle and direct role. Gripping onto a Richard Harris-esque accent, Hardy’s purposeful mannerisms and distinct tone amplify his memorable turn.
As the most realistic survival thriller to date, Locke expertly rests on handful of ideas, sets, and roles. Before its profound finale, the movie throws us in the driver’s seat and takes us on journey of regret, hope, and acceptance. With Hardy’s prowess in full view, fans will lap up this magnetic and visceral one-man production. For Locke, the road to hell truly is paved with good intentions.
Writer: Nick Cave (screenplay), Matt Bondurant (book)
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman
Release date: August 29th, 2012
Distributors: The Weinstein Company, FilmNation Entertainment
Running time: 115 minutes
Best part: Guy Pearce’s creepy turn.
Worst part: The unbalanced narrative.
The prohibition era gangster film has always been a popular movement in modern cinema. Despite their period piece settings, films such as Miller’s Crossing, Public Enemies and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (comedic example) have brought the genre into the contemporary filmmaking era with dashes of wit and violence. The latest presentation of 1930’s gangster life, Lawless, is a gritty, authentic yet confused retrospective of the infamous Bondurant brothers. Continuing the current trend of prohibition-era crime drama, born from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Lawless is a pulpy, visceral yet profound lesson in gangster lore.
Shia LaBeouf & Mia Wasikowska.
The Bondurant brothers were supposedly immortal moonshine makers and runners, situated in the hills outside of a crime-ridden Chicago. With Al Capone and other dangerous men ruling the city, the Bondurants were in charge if the regional distribution of illegal alcoholic substances. Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard Bondurant (Jason Clark) are two of the most notoriously violent citizens of a broken United States. The youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) wants to be just like them, trying anything to prove his worth to his older siblings. Their control of the countryside is interrupted however by the introduction of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), determined to destroy every drop from their distillery. Along with an alluring new bartender (Jessica Chastain), the brothers fight to keep their reputations alive and the dirty cops at bay.
The film successfully combines old and new Hollywood-style crime genre conventions. The strong, straight edged characters are brought to life with every gun shot, punch and stab, containing a loud ring to effectively depict every brutal act in this vile conflict. The third film by Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) is a dirty and hauntingly authentic look at so-called true events. The story of the Bondurant brothers is presented from Jack’s point of view. Unfortunately, this narrow presentation of gangster life and family bonds in the southern districts of America only focuses on the exploits behind Jack’s one dimensional goals. His eagerness to join the running and distilling business leaves little development for the other, more intriguing characters in this meaty story. Despite his character’s naive and occasionally banal nature, LaBeouf puts in a revelatory performance that could hopefully lift his controversial career. The other characters in this enthralling saga are performed convincingly despite the lack of development. Tom Hardy, continuing his promising year after breathtaking performances in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Dark Knight Rises, creates a loyal yet remorseless interpretation of the gangster who lives on his own terms. Despite his nearly inaudible southern drawl, Hardy’s physical presence and piercing stare creates a fierce leader with a slight vulnerable side. Also enrapturing in their small roles are the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor, Mia Wasikowska as Jack’s love interest Bertha and Gary Oldman as influential outlaw Floyd Banner.
“It is not the violence that sets men apart, alright, it is the distance that he is prepared to go.” (Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy), Lawless).
This adaptation of the novel The Wettest County in the World by descendant Matt Bondurant succeeds in creating a darkly rich re-creation of 30’s America. Influenced by prolific crime directors such as the Coen Brothers, Brian De Palma and Michael Mann, Hillcoat efficiently emphasises the earthy and unflattering tones of every bar, dirt road and blood stained room in this era of temptation and cruel violence. Silhouettes and low lighting also effectively capture the depths these characters have fallen into, while the authentic Virginian setting depicts a southern community quickly falling to the evolving landscape of a changing century. The film continues Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave’s flair for punishingly affecting violence and torture sequences. Matching the whipping scenes of Australian western The Proposition and cannibalism in The Road, Lawless lives up to its name and the characters live up to their frightening reputations. Blood splatters all over the walls, gun fights and punch ups are handled with a shocking level of detail, creating many uncomfortable and even blackly comedic moments. Much of the violence and wit is convincingly handled through a passionate performance by Australian actor Guy Pearce. Rakes lashes out at the Bondurant Brothers with a strong distaste for their freedoms and practises. Creating one of the most disgusting yet pampered characters since Alex in A Clockwork Orange, his relentless nature, snarly accent and unique mannerisms create a truly threatening interpretation of the dirty detective character.
Bolstered by Boardwalk Empire’s immense success, Lawless is the latest effort to hop on the cinematic anti-hero wave. Thanks to Cave’s prose and Hillcoat’s style, this gangster flick sucks the stills dry and never lets up!
Verdict: An unfocused yet engaging gangster flick.
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine
Release date: July 20th, 2012
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 165 minutes
Best part: Nolan’s direction.
Worst part: The leaps in logic.
With a penchant for achieving both artistic integrity and visceral entertainment with his acclaimed works, Christopher Nolan has now seemingly achieved the impossible. The Dark Knight Rises delivers on its promises, while defying impossible fan boy expectations, to create an over-long yet powerfully affecting conclusion to the Dark Knight Saga.
Christian Bale & Tom Hardy.
Set eight years after the Joker’s wrath upon Gotham City and Harvey Dent’s downfall from heroic grace, Gotham is at peace. A crippled Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is torn from its citizens through his own exile. Despite a slinky cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), hot on his trail, Wayne is still determined to rebuild his shattered company, Wayne Enterprises, and restore his family’s honour. But this promise of redemption in the eye of a first world order comes at a powerful price. Under the city, a new evil has crawled to the surface; determined to destroy its hate filled existence. Bane (Tom Hardy), a complex yet threatening psychopath and terrorist leader, leads the strike against Gotham’s democratic order. His thirst for destruction plunges the city into darkness, drawing the controversial yet hailed caped crusader out of the shadows to end Bane’s destruction of Gotham’s integral infrastructure.
Nolan has created an influential, thrilling and poignant tale of good and evil set in the confines of a city under siege. His vision is ever changing, blending together fantastical and realistic elements in an organic fashion. Nolan’s unique and constantly evolving style has developed a balance between dystopian crime-drama and artistic action cinema. The Dark Knight Rises is definitely the most formalist instalment in this already revered saga, as the grand scale of this epic masterpiece creates the climactic struggle for democracy within Gotham’s soul. This is a powerful story created by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, crossing the boundaries of modern blockbuster cinema through emotional depth, a relevant thematic structure and a truly involving and epic sense of scale. The thematic and symbolic structure is based on both Nolan’s artistic influences and the relevance of a crumbling democratic society. The destruction of economic and social order, inspired by Metropolis and The Taking of Pelham 123, is carefully examined through Bane’s madness and Catwoman’s desire for a shared socio-economic society. As a symbol of the wealthy elite in peril, Wayne must ultimately face his harshest fears to protect the citizens of Gotham. With Batman Begins symbolising the importance of fear and The Dark Knight questioning the structure of a post 9/11 society through chaos, The Dark Knight Rises creates a crumbled existence based on the relevance of social order.
“We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.” (Bane (Tom Hardy), The Dark Knight Rises).
Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Gary Oldman.
The personification of all three elements here is Bane. A mythic creature born with a taste for torturous violence and a vision of ‘freedom’ within Gotham City, his violent ‘Occupy Wall Street’ based assault on Gotham’s elite social hierarchy creates a terrifying yet empathetic presence. Immersed in terrifying villainy, similarly to Heath Ledger’s Joker, Hardy is a dramatic and physical force. With a multi-layered muscular structure aiding his cold demeanour, thick accent and thirst for pain, Bane goes toe to toe with Batman, using his tortured soul to create a similar sense of anguish for Gotham’s citizens. Hardy also creates an awe-inspiring menace through brutal fighting ability. His lack of remorse and fierce physical presence creates a truly potent and symbolic battle with Batman, particularly in their first fight sequence featuring beautifully shot and creatively choreographed martial arts. Bale delivers one of his greatest performances here as the emotionally decayed anti-hero figure, particularly through poignant interaction with Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Hathaway commands the screen with a much needed ferocity. While Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provide solid turns in important roles close to Wayne’s emotional separation from Gotham’s existence.
Arguably the best trilogy in the history of Hollywood cinema, Nolan has grown as a film-maker through his creation of an emotionally gripping and revered superhero saga. Through this depiction of poignant characterisation, a symbolic visual style and resonant thematic core, this truly is cinema as it’s meant to be.
Verdict: An emotionally gripping conclusion to one of modern cinema’s greatest trilogies.