Tag Archives: A History of Violence

A Most Violent Year (2014)

A Most Violent Year is set in New York City in 1981, the most violent and murderous time in the history of the city. Oscar Isaac plays ambitious immigrant Abel Morales, manager of a successful oil enterprise, and Jessica Chastain plays his beautiful wife/accountant. On the eve of a major business deal, Abel must simultaneously contend with a federal investigation into his practice and a band of hijackers attacking his drivers.

Things fall apart fast for Abel, A Serious Man style, with pretty much everyone turning against him, and it’s in this set-up that A Most Violent Year seems like it’s going to be a pretty great gangster film. Abel is beaten down but never defeated, constantly levelheaded and rarely unprideful. In one scene he speaks to three new employees about business procedure, and though we know he should probably be frantically dealing with everything that’s happened to him in the past week we find him here instead, describing sales tactics with such gusto that Jordan Belfort would buy oil from him. In scenes like this Isaac’s Abel recalls Pacino’s Michael Corleone more fully than any character you care to name, stonefaced as he looks people directly in the eye, staunch in his beliefs.

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The Drop (2014)

The Drop is a film borne along by performances rather than by story or visual gusto or sharp dialogue or anything else. The late James Gandolfini gives a very James Gandolfini-like turn as mobster-minded Cousin Marv, which is to say that he’s still an immensely enjoyable actor even in a typecast role. Tom Hardy stars as Bob Saginowski, bartender at Marv’s place and occasional collaborator in things less legal. Marv’s place is a drop bar, where mafiosos and mafioso wannabes from across Brooklyn launder their dirty money on any given night. The Drop starts with a robbery of the bar, which leads to complications for Bob’s otherwise straightforward life.

Watching The Drop certainly isn’t akin to watching paint dry, but for the first couple acts it’s pretty close to watching Tom Hardy watch paint dry. Bob finds a battered puppy whimpering from a trashcan outside a house near the bar and – oh, gee – damn near immediately starts a relationship with the girl who lives there (played by Noomi Rapace). A few double crosses later and the dog turns out to be one of the links in the robbery case, because of course it is. This predictability continues through to the very end when Bob is revealed to be a lot less timid than he appears, because of course he is.

Hardy, as usual, is commanding. So Bob’s character is predictable, yes, predictably one of those potential secret-holding phantom menaces from movies like A History of Violence, but it works in The Drop‘s favor that Hardy plays that type of character so well. He’s more fascinating as the simmering powderkeg than as the explosion, more spellbinding as the lion in the cage, which is exactly what Bob appears to be and indeed does end up being at the end. Granted, Hardy is phenomenal when playing characters that are fully unleashed (as in Bronson) and fully restrained (as in Locke), but Bob Saginowski isn’t written anywhere near as well as Hardy’s most memorable characters. It’s Hardy holding the screen, not Bob.

Gandolfini, likewise, is playing a snapshot of Tony Soprano but playing it well. Dennis Lehane has written some great crime novels that have been translated to successful films like Mystic River, and The Drop certainly has his streetwise vibe about it. He fails to do anything besides check the major boxes, though, and it’s the actors who have to make up for the inevitable sluggishness one experiences when retrodding familiar material.

The Drop is worth watching if you’re sick of your Netflix queue, if you’re bored on a transnational flight, or if you just enjoy Hardy and/or Gandolfini. There’s little doubt that you will enjoy them here, but past that The Drop is hard pressed to offer anything else.