While the world undoubtedly became aware of James Gandolfini when The Sopranos made its HBO debut in 1999, it’s worth noting that the gangster saga is one of only two television shows the actor ever appeared in (including Robert Altman’s 1997 mini-series event Gun). Prior to his breakout fronting the cast of The Sopranos, Gandolfini spent much of the nineties making a name for himself playing tough guys in all manner of big screen ventures (most notably as the affable stuntman Bear in the 1995 classic Get Shorty).
And even as Gandolfini spent much of his post-Sopranos life looking for roles far from the tough guys he typically played, when the actor returned to the tough guy fold, he always gravitated towards characters which boldly undercut the myth of macho men. Gandolfini’s final big screen appearance in the 2014 crime drama The Drop saw him portraying just such a character. It also saw him trading lines with then up-and-coming screen heavies Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Directed by Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead) and adapted by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) from his own short story, The Drop told the tale of a kind-hearted Brooklyn bartender (Hardy) forced to tangle with Chechen mobsters when a lucrative money drop at the bar of his cousin Marv (Gandolfini) goes terribly wrong. On the surface, The Drop presents as a run-of-the-mill sort of crime drama Gandolfini frequented throughout his career. But much like 2012’s Killing Them Softly, the film plays with genre conventions in fascinating ways, with Gandolfini’s would-be tough guy serving more as a fool-hearty victim of circumstance, thus allowing the actor deliver one of the more powerfully muted performances of his career.