The brilliant young Flemish director Michaël Roskam was identified as a talent to watch by film-maker Michael Mann after his debut feature, Bullhead, was chosen as Belgium’s Oscar candidate.
His first English language film underlines his promise. This is an urban thriller in the style of Mann, Martin Scorsese or Sidney Lumet in his Serpico days. It is brilliantly, if self-consciously, shot by Roskam’s fellow Belgian, Nicolas Karakatsanis. The performances are as rich and moody as the cinematography. James Gandolfini, in his final screen appearance, is cast true to type as Marv, a Brooklyn bar manager/wiseguy who has had to give up ownership of his bar to Chechen gangsters. They use the place as a “drop” off location for laundering money.
Marv is a family man but one capable of ruthlessness and violence when the need arises. The main character is Marv’s cousin, Bob (Tom Hardy), the bartender. Hardy plays him as if he is a latter-day counterpart to Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront.
He is a lonely soul with a sentimental streak, which comes out when he rescues a pitbull puppy from a garbage can. This throws him into the orbit of the beautiful but tormented Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and of her psychopathic former boyfriend, Eric Deeds (Bullhead star Matthias Schoenaerts.)
This is a film full of character and atmosphere and which pays homage to all of Roskam’s favourite film-makers. Denis Lehane’s screenplay, based on one of his own stories, is just a little too contrived and mechanical. It’s as if the plot is almost an afterthought that has been put in place to give the actors a platform on which to perform.Reuse content