The Drop
★★★ ½ stars
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It’s approaching the point where I would happily watch Tom Hardy read the phonebook in a movie. The dialogue would be predictable, but you know he would amp up the Method once he reached the Smiths.

Hardy’s latest is a deceptively muted role in The Drop, a grimy story crime fiction writer Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone) adapts from his short story “Animal Rescue.” Lehane shifts the setting from his usual Boston ‘burbs to Brooklyn, where the old crime crews have been supplanted by more ruthless foreign influences.

“Then the neighborhood changed and it wasn’t enough to be tough anymore,” says Bob Saginowski (Hardy). “You had to be mean.”

Bob used to run the streets with his cousin Marv (the late James Gandolfini, sensational), but now he just tends bar. Specifically, it’s a “drop bar,” one of several rotating drop points for mob gambling money. Although the neon sign reads “Cousin Marv’s Bar,” it’s actually owned by brutal Chechen gangsters, who become suspicious of Marv and Bob when two masked robbers empty the bar’s register one night.

Meanwhile, Bob lands in a parallel storyline when he adopts a beaten pitbull puppy he finds in a dumpster outside the home of Nadia (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). That also causes Bob to cross paths with Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), the dog’s original owner and Nadia’s psychotic ex.

Directed by Belgian Michaël Roskam (Bullhead), the narrative dodders along without mustering much plot momentum or developing its secondary characters, including Nadia, Eric and a local police detective (John Ortiz).

What makes the film worth watching is Hardy and Gandolfini. Hardy fashions his man-child into a mesmerizing performance, with Bob a cross between Terry Malloy and Ryan Gosling in Drive (with an accent that’s part Rocky Balboa, part Mike Tyson).

Moreover, The Drop serves as a dual elegy. One is for the nostalgia of New York’s mean streets, at least the version popularized by books and movies before guys with Eastern European accents started chopping off body parts over a few thousand dollars.

The other is for the late Gandolfini’s tough guy, Tony Soprano screen persona. “When I walked into a place, people sat up straight,” Marv, the former neighborhood heavy, reminisces. “I was noticed. I was respected. I was feared.”

Today, Marv’s old barstool, where no one would once dare sit, is now regularly occupied by a homeless woman who never pays her tab. And Marv can barely scrape together enough scratch to keep his comatose father on life support. The occupants of The Drop exist in a similar space, still striving to stay alive but increasingly unsure what’s there to live for.