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|Cinema Signal: A standout character piece about evil and violence in the inner city, and one man who will stand for it... up to a point. Green light!!||MOBILE version ||
The treat for me in this gangland thriller set in Brooklyn isn't from the obvious source. Mainly, it's in getting another chance to see Tom Hardy playing the character he did to such perfection in "Lawless" as the unyielding older brother and head of his clan's depression-era bootlegging operation when the big boys from the east come to his small back-woods Virginia town using their muscle to demand payoffs.
His character was the instrument of vengeance in that film of 2012 and is reprised here in his portrayal of Bob Saginowski, a brooding introvert who presents the mask of a slow, accomodating man to others. But what's really brewing inside is an explosive potential for anyone who treads on his sense of justice and fair treatment. People who would take advantage of him in the belief that he's uncomplicated and manageable try it at their peril.
Which may not sound like such a drama, except that the one who misunderstands him the most and treats him like a pawn, if not as a semi-idiot who can be required to do anything he wants, is Marv (James Gandolfini in his last movie). Marv is Bob's cousin and once-owner of the local bar in which Bob works as one of the bartenders.
Rough, stubborn, wily Marv doesn't notice the subtlety of Bob's language skills and level of understanding. Even as Bob picks up on Cousin Marv's plotting nature ("Are you doing something desperate? Something we can't clean up this time?" Bob asks with something less than respect in his voice.) Marv lacks the sensibility to recognize that there's more to his faithful cuz than what he sees in the easy-going manner and wish to please.
Here, too, (as in "Lawless") a gang has its crawly fingers on the flow of cash their bar generates. That's because Marv basically lost his business to them when he couldn't pay the loans, and operates it now as a cash conduit to the gang. It's their drop.
All's steady until two things happen: Marv is getting ideas about pay back and two masked men rob what's in the cash register -- even knowing that it holds gang money. Everyone's looking for the big score, but you don't play that game with these Chechens.
If the film, as directed by Michael R. Roskam (his first English-language film) and adapted for the screen by novelist Dennis Lehane from his short story, "Animal Rescue," has any weaknesses, it is perhaps the feeling it creates of too much of a good thing. Can you have too much internal dissection, too much character delineation? Maybe not, but a problem asserts itself in a lagging pace here and there, even though it runs a mere 106 minutes.
Noomi Rapace ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") is stunning and strongly sympathetic in her singular Swedish way. She's Nadia, a lady with a tough hide concealing a soft core, who thinks of herself as being "in the life" -- from which no one escapes. Bob's tenderness and respect confuses her as she faces the destiny she knows and accepts, which, when she becomes the victim of sociopathic ex-con Eric Deeds (intense and scary Matthias Schoenaerts, "Blood Ties") is to do what she must to survive. She's an unusual casting choice, but a brilliant one.
[POTENTIAL SPOILERS:] The casting, acting and production values are standout. The penchant Lehane has for the treachery of man and the violence he can spew in these gangland neighborhoods is the texture throughout, powered by the mind sets of the criminal culture he creates. He takes us close enough to them to feel the pain, and see it brewing in the mentality of evil men and one who will stand for it... up to a point.
A memorable line in the movie comes from the detective who had been trying to figure out who robbed the bar. Finally being made to realize something about his prime suspect, he leans down to speak into the genial bartender's ear. "You really don't let anyone know you're coming, do you, Bob?" Bullseye!.
The drama of this hard tale of corruption and betrayal, of a decent man rising above the cruelty and brutality that surrounds him, is told on the deceptively gentle face of Tom Hardy. Don't let him out of your sight. (Not that you'll be able to.)