Don’t let the cute little puppy fool you. This isn’t a light film, the atmosphere is relentlessly dark and always penetrating, even during seemingly lighter scenes. This is a not-too-simple, not-too-complex story about the dark, prickly underbelly of a decidedly unfriendly area of Brooklyn, or more accurately: the type of dirty money that is hard to launder when one is already being closely watched. And so appears the ‘drop bar’ where all this money is stashed, a bar run by cousin Marv and his cousin Bob, a simple type who ‘just serves drinks’. Marv is constantly stuck in the past – a decade back, where his name ‘meant something’, where people were ‘scared’ of him, when he owned and ran the bar. That was before where the movie starts, before foreign mobsters stripped him of his power and his pride.
While this revolves around a drop bar owned by some gangsters, there is a lot more to this flick. This offers up three great character studies, three very different people, who are all entangled in the same mess. Cousin Marv, in a kinda eerie final role for Gandolfini, has gone from Tony Soprano to a guy running a bar, living in the past: where there was a stool that no one else dared sit on, when people wouldn’t dare touch him. He doesn’t look to have completely accepted that he no longer has that control and power that he has been accustomed to. The produces a blunt but dryly humourous man, whose demons from days past seem to haunt him for much of the movie. Marv’s cousin Bob is a simple-minded bloke; his performance, the dialogue… it seems that he either has very slight learning disabilities or very slight autism. The thought of raising a dog haunts him and sends him into panic mode. And finally we have a mysterious, delusional psychopath who will attempt to get what he feels is his, no matter the consequences. His nature alone pulls him into this grim underworld that is so perfectly captured.
When Bob finds a dog beaten and bloody in a trash can, things immediately change. It seems odd, but it is obvious that the pup is going to play a part in the movie. The pup is a pit-bull too, an indicator that this was a malicious act that was probably intended to be repeated. How exactly the pup will factor into the story though is utterly unpredictable.
The movie blends these two seemingly unrelated stories together perfectly. The film is initially a picture perfect depiction of Brooklyn, with the attitudes and accents that come with the city. It is relentlessly dark, and for good reason: when the feces hits the fan and paints the walls brown, these two stories merge to create a tense and unpredictable movie, with small bursts of violence that are quick and brutal. You have to keep your eyes and ears open to follow the complex plot that straddles the line between complex and confusing perfectly: having you guessing at times the motives of certain characters, but never in frustration. The tension only mounts when our guesses are proven wrong or are confirmed, as the scenes gradually become more intense.
This is a movie that you should go rather blind into. I only had a rough idea when I saw it, basically what I outlined above, any more than that and you will spoil the fantastic, tense head-scratcher that will keep you guessing until the final minute.
Tom Hardy’s accent is perfect, and he nails the simple-like character who panics at the thought of looking after a dog. Matthias Schoenaerts, who starred in this Belgian director’s previous effort Bullhead, is captivating every time he is on-screen as his character is mentally drowning, with very few gasps of sanity, and consistently menacing every time he suddenly appears. I am not surprised at all that the director brought him when he decided to shoot stateside. And while not the greatest guy in the world, Marv is played subtly but expertly by Gandolfini, he really oozes of that sense of power that has been dismissed, but not completely, in his mind at least. He plays the stubborn but slightly fragile ex-kingpin perfectly. A great last performance by the great man, plus it is a movie with a fantastically tense finish. Can’t ask for much more. Thank god his final appearance on-screen won’t be digital, which is what I have heard regarding Seymour Hoffman and the last Hunger Games movie. Time will tell on that one, but it certainly isn’t something I agree with one bit. However, this swansong performance was fantastic and was a part of a great suspense/mystery flick that deserves more than one viewing, at least.
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