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November 24, 2014


In 2013 we lost James Gandolfini and this year Philip Seymour Hoffman, two actors who without fail could be counted on to so inhabit their characters that acting ceased and transcended to an unmediated empathic present. With the subtlest of gesture or expression, both men could convey volumes, and no matter how morally corrupt their characters, Gandolfini and Hoffman inevitably found what sliver of the light of humanity lay buried in those characters’ souls.

A Most Wanted Man
Nowhere was this ability more manifest this year than in Hoffman’s performance in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, adapted from John le Carré’s 2008 novel. I can’t imagine anyone (maybe Richard Burton, who in 1965 embodied the defeatist Alec Leamas in Martin Ritt's film adaptation of le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) inhabiting the role of post-9/11 German spy Günther Bachmann as utterly as Hoffman does in one of the most consummate character studies ever put to film. 
Bachmann’s intelligence agency is surveilling a Chechen-Russian named Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) whom Interpol suspects of being an Islamist jihadi. Hell-bent on seizing Karpov, the CIA has sent in an agent (Robin Wright) to see their mission through. Bachmann, however, understands that Karpov is not the true threat; his real utility lies in allowing Bachmann to get to an influential man who pulls strings with money Bachmann suspects him of laundering for powerful terrorist networks.
As in life so in le Carré’s world of realpolitik: double-crosses, sellouts, lèse-majesté, shady deals, and cover-ups entangle anything that might resemble conscience. The cigarettes he chain smokes, the whiskey he craves seem to be all that keep the world-weary Bachmann alive. The jaded Bachmann’s cynicism is well-earned, but some small part of him still believes his job matters, that he can effect change in the longer view. When that spark is threatened with extinction in the face of the abyss, Hoffman’s Bachmann lets loose a primal cry of grief that echoes through Philip Seymour Hoffman’s masterful, loving oeuvre.

God’s Pocket
John Slattery’s directorial debut, God's Pocket based on Pete Dexter’s 1983 novel, takes its structure from the noir tradition of the hard drinking reporter, embodied here in Richard Jenkins, who romanticizes the mean streets and the wise guys who inhabit them.
Richard Jenkins in God's Pocket
It’s about Hoffman’s Mickey Scarpato, a truck driver and petty thief, and John Turturro’s Arthur “Bird” Capezio, a man too endeared of the horses. Mickey and Bird circle the fringes of the mob in their blue collar world. Mickey’s at a disadvantage, not being a native of the neighborhood. He married in, and it’s the bully of a son he inherited with the marriage whose death sets events in motion. Unlike Mickey, Bird is of the community and should know better than to get behind with its loan sharks. The film tries to navigate a seriocomic tone, and though it sometimes falters and verges on slapstick, Hoffman’s understatement balances Turturro’s manic braggadocio.

The Drop
Michaël R. Roskam’s The Drop, a pulpy, noir-ish suspense tale adapted by Dennis Lehane from his 2009 short story "Animal Rescue," features Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini. Gandolfini plays Marv, the one-time titular owner of Marv's, a neighborhood “drop” bar where the underground launders its currency. Hardy’s Bob Saginowski is the bartender, a quiet man who keeps his own counsel.
Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in The Drop
Bob rescues a battered pit bull puppy from a garbage can belonging to Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and as he gradually befriends her, comes to learn that she's the ex-girlfriend of the dog’s owner, a sadistic punk (Matthis Schoenaerts) who has spent a decade crowing about killing a guy last seen in Marv's bar. Critics have called the plot a shaggy dog story, and the tale of the murder and the assumptions surrounding it are repeated like an urban legend but doubted, too, especially by a detective (John Ortz) who’s been nosing around the case for all of its 10 years.
James Gandolfini in The Drop
It’s a good looking movie, but the acting is the real reason to see The Drop. Gandolfini, in his final performance, gives us a resentful has-been clinging to the idea that he’s still somebody. Schoenaerts’ Deeds oozes just enough venom, and despite her character’s fear of Deeds, Rapace makes Nadia her own woman. 
Noomi Rapace and Matthis Schoenaerts in The Drop
But the show belongs to Hardy and to Hardy’s character Bob, this seeming inarticulate, non-player who doggedly (pun intended) will not go away.

Hardy, a British actor, has an impressive roster of supporting roles in American films to his credit. He crafted a remarkable performance as the sole screen presence in Steven Knight’s 2013 Locke. In The Drop, as the central figure in a seedy urban neighborhood, he again manages to make a character of mundane ordinariness intense, compelling, and grounded in an authentic, if unconventional, morality.
Tom Hardy in The Drop

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