“The Drop” — in which James Gandolfini makes his final film appearance — was originally titled “Animal Rescue,” since the crime drama deals with a lonely Brooklyn bartender (Tom Hardy) who takes in a Pit Bull puppy that was beaten and left for dead in a trash can.
Gandolfini plays the main character’s cousin, who owned the bar until Chechen mobsters took it over. The film offers “an inside look at organized crime’s use of local New York City bars as money-laundering ‘drops,'” according to its official website (which also mentions that 1.4 million dogs are adopted each year).
“The Drop,” which premiered Friday at the Toronto Film Festival, opens in theaters Sept.12. It’s based on the short story “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island.”
So far, most of the reviews have been positive.
“It’s hard to remember the last time a canine was made so shamelessly pivotal a character in a mainstream movie (‘Marley & Me,’ perhaps), but ‘The Drop’ is at once upfront and highly effective in its manipulations, tugging at our heartstrings even as it flicks away at our nerves,” wrote Variety film critic Justin Chang.
In a featurette about Rocco (portrayed, as he grows, by three different Pit Bull puppies), producer Jenno Topping said it was hard to be around the four-legged actors “without smooshing and kissing” them.
“Our filmmaker felt very strongly that there was a thematic connection between a breed that was so traditionally misunderstood and our main character, who is both enigmatic and hugely misunderstood,” she said.
Gandolfini may have been attracted to this film since off screen, he himself was the devoted dog dad of a rescued Pit Bull named Duke. The two were often spotted near their home in New York City.
“I would see him getting coffee with his dog,” Sara Mattler told WNYC after Gandolfini’s death in June 2013. “He was always so sweet with his dog, and made sure the dog had water while he ran in on a hot day.”
Gandolfini was also the dog dad of a Puggle, a Pug/Beagle mix. (As much as he loved ducks and racehorses, can you imagine Tony Soprano cuddling a Puggle? Fuhgedaboutit.)
Here’s hoping one of Gandolfini’s legacies is that his final film helped change people’s minds about Pit Bulls.
And here’s hoping “The Drop” has a happier ending than “Marley & Me.” If you want to know the movie’s outcome before you see it, the website Does the Dog Die? is an excellent resource. (“The Drop” is not yet listed there — I checked.)