(director: Michael R. Roskam; screenwriter: Dennis Lehane/based on the Dennis Lehane short story “Animal Rescue”; cinematographer: Nicolas Karakatsanis; editor: Christopher Tellefsen; music: Marco Beltrami; cast: Tom Hardy (Bob Saginowski ), Noomi Rapace (Nadia), James Gandolfini (Cousin Marv), Matthias Schoenaerts (Eric Deeds), John Ortiz (Detective Torres), Ann Dowd (Dottie), Michael Aronov (Chovka), James Frecheville (Fitz), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Detective Romsey), Tobias Segal (Briele), Michael Esper (Rardy); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Peter Chernin/Jenno Topping; Fox Searchlight; 2014)

“Gripping pot-boiler crime drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

In his English-language film-making debut, Belgian director Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead“) directs this gripping pot-boiler crime drama. Novelist Dennis Lehane bases his fine script on his short story Animal Rescue, and sets it in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s the last cinema acting role of the deceased in June 2013 star of the Sopranos, James Gandolfini.

Marv (James Gandolfini) lives with his caring sister (Ann Dowd) and runs a seedy bar in Brooklyn that he formerly owned but now is owned by Chovka (Michael Aronov), a Chechen crime lord. The mobsters use the bar as a money drop, as the frustrated Marv survives being a figurehead owner by playing ball with the mobsters but scheming to show them he has some balls and merits some respect. The bartender is Marv’s lonely, church-going, passive cousin, Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy, British actor), who relentlessly gets bossed around by Marv and offers no resistance.

Things get tense when the mob boss orders the cousins to recover the stolen $5,000 missing from a drop or else. Meanwhile the neighborhood cop, Detective Torres (John Ortiz), threatens to expose the mob owned bar’s possible criminal activities.

A subplot has Bob, someone hiding a mysterious past, finding a badly beaten baby pit-bull in the garbage, in which he rescues. Bob is helped nursing it back to health by his fragile attractive neighbor Nadia (Noomi Rapace, Swedish actress). While bonding with his loner soul-mate, Bob awkwardly tries to build a romantic relationship with the psychologically-scarred woman. Things get heavy when Bob is stalked by the dog’s original sadistic owner, Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts, Belgian actor), who has a thing about intimidating Bob and of trying to romance Nadia.

The three stories come together in the stark conclusion, set at Marv’s bar just after Super Bowl Sunday, and despite being familiar Mean Street material, featuring stereotyped thugs and somewhat clumsily executed plot turns, it’s still an emotionally moving drama and one of the better crime films I’ve seen this year. Hardy delivers a chilling sympathetic performances, and is the main reason things work out so well. Gandolfini does his Soprano thing. Rapace is fine. And, Schoenaerts makes for a vicious creep, who in the end gets what he deserves.