Even in James Gandolfini’s swansong, barman Bob and Rocco the pup will steal your heart, says Alistair Harkness
There’s probably no cuter pairing to be found at this year’s London Film Festival than Tom Hardy and a scrappy pitbull puppy called Rocco. As he rescues said dog from a garbage can in the opening scenes of The Drop (* * * *), The Dark Knight Rises star sees his adorability quotient going through the roof – no mean feat in a film that also features DIY torture and the late James Gandolfini as a failed Tony Soprano-esque kingpin rueing his loss of status now that his Brooklyn stomping ground is controlled by Chechen gangsters.
Hardy – boasting a crackly Brooklyn accent – plays Bob, a lonely, quiet-seeming bartender for Gandolfini’s lumbering Cousin Marv, whose fading tavern is frequently used as a drop point for cash pick-ups for the mob’s criminal enterprises. When it’s robbed one night (on a non-drop night), their ruthless paymasters suspect an inside job – something that sets Marv and Bob on divergent paths, particularly as the latter’s adoption of Rocco not only awakens his long-dormant humanity, but sparks a relationship with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a local waitress with her own dark past.
Marking the feature screenwriting debut of crime novelist Dennis Lehane (who adapted one of his own short stories), The Drop is as tightly plotted and character-driven as one might expect from the author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone – and makes for a great tribute to Gandolfini, whose soulful turn as a man facing his own obsolescence gives the story added poignancy.
But it’s really Hardy’s film, and he benefits from the movie’s unusually enlightened use of his canine co-star as a supporting character whose journey in the film parallels his own character’s desire for love and redemption.
There’s more canine action to be found in White God (* * * *), although pooch lovers should be warned that while its Palm Dog-winning protagonists are remarkable, this bizarre Hungarian tale of a canine uprising is a fairly traumatic watch too. A heady mix of Cujo, The Birds and Planet of the Apes, but with a more low-key social realist bent, the film revolves around a young girl whose intolerant father dumps her beloved, mixed-breed pet dog Hagan by the side of the highway, leaving him to fend for himself in a Budapest not exactly predisposed to a love of dogs.
What follows is a sort of apocalyptic fable in which the maltreatment of lowly animals becomes a potent metaphor for everything from immigration to the abuse of power, with it’s striking finale serving as stark warning about our own arrogant belief that we’ll always be at the top of the food chain.
Even stranger than a doggy end-of-days is the teen girl hysteria in The Falling (* *), Carol Morley’s first feature since breaking through with her remarkable documentary Dreams of a Life.
Alas, while undeniably beautifully-made and featuring some strong performances (not least from Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams), the film – about a mysterious fainting epidemic that overwhelms the hormonally-charged pupils of a girls school in 1960s England – is impenetrably esoteric and was greeted with a mixture of ridicule and rapture at its first press screening.
Sadly I found myself in the former camp as it worked itself up into a fever pitch of meaningless, sub-Picnic at Hanging Rock-style weirdness, with none of the requisite creepiness.