The Drop (15A) stars Tom Hardy a Bob Saginowski, a bartender in a rundown oston neighbourhood.
A gentle, church-going soul, Bob rescues a battered puppy from a trashcan, in the process coming to the attention of Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and her psychotic ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts).
Meanwhile, the bar where Bob works gets held up, and the Chechen gangsters who own the bar want their money back. Squeezed by circumstances beyond his control, Bob needs to get tough or get gone.
Directed by Michaël Roskam, and adapted from a screenplay by Dennis Lehane (whose novels were adapted for Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone, Baby, Gone), The Drop is a punchy tale with an edgy, hardboiled noir tone.
Bob is a man regarded as something of a half-wit by friends and foes alike, and particularly by his immediate boss, Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), and Hardy’s performance is a delicately nuanced one that manages to convey an aura of brutalised innocence underpinned by a rock-hard resolution when it comes to doing the right thing.
Gandolfini, of course, is a past master when it comes to oozing affable menace, Rapace is excellent as the vulnerable but resourceful survivor Nadia, while Schoenaerts is terrific as the sleepy-eyed psychopath who recognises no boundaries or limits to his behaviour.
The story is lean but muscular, the pacing measured but relentless as it moves towards its explosive climax, with director Roskam investing it all with an understated but convincingly bleak existentialism as the religious Bob contemplates his options in the afterlife: an eternity of loneliness or damned straight to hell. All told, it’s an unusually thoughtful thriller.
The Imitation Game (12A) flashes back and forward through the life of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), although Morten Tyldum’s film, unsurprisingly, centres on Turing’s time at Bletchley Park during WWII, when Turing led the team that broke Germany’s ‘Enigma code’, turning the tide of the war in favour of the Allies and in the process inventing the computer.
It’s a stirring tale, albeit one that has been well told before, but it’s the framing of those events that gives The Imitation Game its poignant and at times harrowing tone. We see Turing in 1951, a broken man who is the victim of a burglary at his humble flat in Manchester, which is investigated by a police detective who is fascinated to discover that Turing’s war record has been wiped clean; the story also takes us back to 1928, when the young public schoolboy, already a mathematics prodigy, finds himself falling in love with one of his schoolmates.
Cumberbatch is superb in the lead role, blending Turing’s brilliance, arrogance and lack of compassion for other people’s feelings with his acute awareness of his own failings in terms of his emotional responses.
Elsewhere, a strong ensemble cast including Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Charles Dance and Mark Strong, circle around Turing, as repelled by his almost robotic lack of human feeling as they are fascinated by his genius — although it’s Keira Knightley who threatens to steal the show with a scintillating turn as Joan Clarke, another maths prodigy who battles against Bletchley Park’s entrenched sexism and struggles with her complicated feelings for Turing.
Set in contemporary Dublin, Standby (15A) stars Brian Gleeson as Alan, recently fired from his banking job and now working at a Dublin Airport information desk alongside his mother. Enter Alice (Jessica Paré), diverted to Dublin whilst flying from Paris to New York and needing an emergency overnight billet — and, as it so happens, the love of Alan’s life, from the year he spent working in America on a Green Card. Has fate intervened to bring the pair back together?
Alan certainly hopes so, and offers to put Alice up in his room for the night. And so we embark on a tale that bears a strong resemblance to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, as Alan and Jessica spend the next 12 hours or so wandering Dublin’s streets, talking about love, life and the universe — and skiffle.
The comparison is neither unkind nor unfair, given that Standby has plenty of charm to call its own, most of it courtesy of two very likeable leads in Gleeson and Paré, who combine to create a pleasing chemistry despite Alan’s typically Irish hesitancy and emotional stumbling, when it comes to affairs of the heart.
Pierce Ryan’s script might be predictable in terms of its overall arc, but it’s funny too, and the no-frills direction from Rob and Ronan Burke wisely allows the leading pair time and room to shine.
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