James Gandolfini

The Drop

As the summer movie season draws to a close, I look forward to better offerings in the fall. I’m optimistic about the films slated for release in the coming weeks, from Gone Girl to Kill the Messenger. I was disappointed with the summer selection, and it looks like studios are featuring some weightier movies in the next few months. The Drop’s trailer appeared promising, with multi-faceted Tom Hardy (Locke) alongside James Gandolfini (Enough Said) in his final film.

Writer David Lehane’s source material has given us some heavy, emotionally rich films like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, and the same melancholy, gritty undertones of the working class were present in The Drop. Lehane adapted the screenplay from one of his short stories, and the movie pulsated with moments of electricity, despite an overall quiet tone. Of course, in criminal parlance, a “drop” refers to a place where illegal money is exchanged for a criminal act, or “job.” Enter ordinary man Bog Saginawski (Hardy), a solitary guy whose low-level criminal activities belie a warm heart. He works at a neighborhood bar called Cousin Marv’s, owned by Gandolfini’s character in name only.

Marv’s bar doubles as a drop spot for the local mob, a no-nonsense group of Chechens who ousted him as owner a decade prior. He runs a tight ship, keeping Bob in line and reminding him of whose name is on the door. The movie opens with Bob narrating an overview of the way money changes hands in New York’s underworld, especially at night and especially at places like Marv’s. We watch as Bob discreetly receives mysterious brown envelopes from an assortment of crooks and hustlers; and it’s business as usual until two armed, masked men hold up the bar one night as Marv and Bob are closing.

The film follows the aftermath of the robbery, as Bob and Marv contend with the police and the mob. An interesting subplot emerges when Bob develops a friendship with a neighboring woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace, Prometheus) after they discover an abused pit bull puppy. The adorable puppy was a recurring use of symbolism throughout the movie, representing the duality of the vicious breed and the innocence of a baby. Bob’s character somewhat mirrored the dog’s, as his simple, peaceful exterior obscured a more brutal survival instinct.

I was drawn in by the performances, and I’m beginning to think Hardy is incapable of a bad showing. His character does a 180, but the shift felt authentic rather than disingenuous. He had a fraternal chemistry with Gandolfini and plaintive tenderness with Rapace as they were threatened by a menacing ex-lover from her past.The film was suspenseful and effectively dramatic throughout, although it lagged here and there. Patient viewers will be rewarded in the final act, where the plot twists unexpectedly. The trailer is a bit misleading, so you should be forewarned that this is a definitely an “indie” movie with a subdued tone. It won’t make much of a splash at the box office, but The Drop is worth checking out. Grade: B

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Steve Carell has been pretty consistent with his comedic performances, save for 2010’s horrid Dinner for Schmucks.  He’s shown the ability to deliver laughs as well as heartfelt, dramatic performances, as found in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Dan in Real Life.  In his latest movie he joins Jim Carrey (Mr. Popper’s Penguins) and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a silly flick about dueling magicians.

Carell is Burt Wonderstone, an egotistical Vegas magician who performs a running act alongside his best friend and fellow magician Anton Marvelton (Buscemi).  They resemble Siegfried and Roy, and it’s especially funny to see Buscemi out of his element in such a ridiculous part.  They are joined by their able assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde, In Time), a gifted magician in her own right.  Although he performs for hordes of adoring fans each night, Burt was not always so popular.  His childhood was miserable until he received a magic set for his birthday and found his passion through the love of magic.

Fast forward to the present day and there is a new kid on the block in Steve Gray (Carrey), a character that is best described as a cross between Chris Angeland David Blaine.  Gray is capturing the public’s attention through his magic tricks that more closely resemble publicity stunts.  Some of his “tricks” include holding his urine for over a week and not blinking for days at a time.  His antics are intentionally absurd, but it wasn’t too far removed from some of the ridiculous feats attempted by David Blaine.  Magic is an easy subject to lampoon, so the storyline was ripe for laughs.  For starters, all three magicians take their craft very seriously, approaching their performances with a laughable level of intensity.

When Anton and Burt have a falling out after a failed magic trick, Anton finally stands up for himself and quits.  Burt tries to maintain the show, but it fails miserably.  His boss at the casino (James Gandolfini, Killing Me Softly) gives him one last chance to recapture the old magic if he can best rival Gray and come up with an unbelievable magic trick to beat all others.  The remainder of the movie pits Burt and Gray against one another, with pretty funny results.  Jim Carrey’s humor isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always been a fan of his quirky brand of physical humor.  He reminded me of his old performances on In Living Color and I thought he played well off Steve Carell.  Olivia Wilde was a good sport in her role and ably complimented the more experienced funnymen.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was more ridiculous than funny, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The three lead actors didn’t take themselves too seriously, and that was the only requirement here.  It was not highbrow humor, but I enjoyed myself despite the silly premise.  Jim Carrey fans won’t be disappointed, although it won’t rank highly among his funnier solo efforts.  Similarly, Steve Carrell has also had smarter, funnier material to work with.  However, I can’t judge the movie too harshly.  It’s a movie about dueling magicians for goodness’ sake, what did you expect?

Grade: B

This article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission.