Brooklyn bartender Bob (Hardy) does the bidding of his belligerent cousin-nominal boss Marv (Gandolfini), who lost the bar to gangsters using it as a ‘drop’ for illegal takings. But a robbery puts them in a tight spot, just as lonely Bob’s personal life is on an upturn.
Much of this working- class Brooklyn tale covers familiar ground. Heavily accented, highly unpleasant gangsters (Chechen this time) have taken over the ’hood using intimidation, extortion and racketeering. People who irk them end up in bits in dripping bin bags. And an apparently ordinary schlub, seemingly none-too-bright, glimpses a better life within his grasp if he can extricate himself from crime, violence and dark history.
Tom Hardy’s quiet, kind-hearted Bob Saginowski isn’t entirely what he seems. He keeps his head down at the bar and takes out the trash, bullied by James Gandolfini’s loudmouth Marv (a little lamentably, given it’s his final performance, his default mode). Bob turns a blind eye when the Chechens’ couriers furtively slip deposits (cash for laundering from illegal enterprises) under the bar. After the bar is raided by two masked characters with shotguns, both the peeved Chechens and the piqued cops take too close an interest in the joint, its denizens and the missing loot. This is very not good for Marv or Bob. Meanwhile Bob rescues a battered puppy dog abandoned in a rubbish bin and bonds sweetly over its care with a nice, intriguing immigrant (Noomi Rapace’s Nadia).
Belgian hotshot Michaël R. Roskam, who made a splash with Bullhead, makes his American debut with a strong cast (including Bullhead’s Matthias Schoenaerts as a persistently nerve-wracking psycho who claims ownership of abused dog and abused woman) and a good instinct for suspense. Dennis Lehane (whose usual beat, Boston, gave us Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone) adapted the screenplay from his short story, Animal Rescue, and while he has fleshed it out with characters and sub-plots, these don’t go anywhere particularly. It does feel stretched out, thinner than the episodes he wrote for The Wire. It’s Hardy’s deceptive, sympathetic performance that really distinguishes this from any number of competent but routine crime-gone-awry dramas.
The cute puppy almost steals the show but Hardy is ace and quite the watchable chameleon in his surprising switch from lovable dumb ox to cannier-than-we-thought.