Clever ‘Drop,’ Pleasant ‘Dolphin,’ Placid ‘Life’

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By FS

Contributing Writer

 

 

 

 

 

“The Drop”

 

The latest adaptation of a story by novelist Dennis Lehane, whose work previously served as the basis for “Gone Baby Gone,” “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island,” represents James Gandolfini’s on-screen swan song. But “The Drop” (wide release) has a great many virtues beyond his stellar performance as a mob-upped bar manager with money on his mind.

The script, which centers on his saloon, a place that periodically serves as the collection center for a Chechen crime family’s ill-gotten gains, is a nifty combination of duplicity and double-crosses, and Michael R. Roskam’s direction creates a menacing atmosphere that seems always on the verge of violence.

But the film’s real revelation is Tom Hardy, in a brilliantly understated turn as Gandolfini’s ostensibly mild-mannered bartender, a fellow who goes to daily Mass but never takes communion and reluctantly adopts a pit bull puppy he finds abandoned in a garbage can. The bond between the dog and the man becomes a major plot thread, and it turns out — in a final revelation that should come as a genuine surprise to viewers — that they are very much alike.

The Lehane streak continues.

 

 

“Dolphin Tale 2”

 

Younger children and their parents should enjoy “Dolphin Tale 2” (wide release), a pleasant, completely innocuous sequel to the 2011 movie about a dolphin that survives a serious injury by being outfitted with a prosthetic tail.

In this installment, Winter, as the animal has been named, faces removal to another aquarium after her companion dies. Meanwhile the young boy who turned his life around by tending her must make a decision about whether to participate in a prestigious three-month internship in a marine biology program that will take him away from Winter at a critical time.

The picture moves slowly and lacks energy, but kids will be enchanted by the antics of the dolphins (as well as their animatronic stand-ins) along with those of comic-relief turtles and pelicans, while parents should appreciate the fact that it eschews the coarse humor so common in so-called family movies nowadays. One can also be grateful that unlike the first film, it was not shot in 3-D; as a result the images are clearer and crisper.

Morgan Freeman also returns as the grumpy-but-wise engineer who fashions Winter’s new tails, and no one can deliver uplifting speeches like him.

 

“Frontera”

 

Ed Harris gives a fine performance in the border drama “Frontera” (Magnolia). He plays a gruff but principled Arizona ex-sheriff who, despite his grief over his wife’s death, undertakes an investigation of his own when a migrant (Michael Peña) is quickly charged with her murder.

In a parallel narrative, the accused man’s pregnant wife (Eva Longoria) tries to get across the border to help her husband, and she finds herself in trouble as well. Here, too, the ex-sheriff will intervene.

“Frontera” can be heavy-handed — it is delivering a message about immigration from Mexico in a way that leaves little room for subtlety. And one needs to be willing to go along with some substantial coincidences to maintain a suspension of disbelief.

But Harris, an underrated actor, creates a character so rich and textured that most viewers will want to accept the plot contrivances even when the script goes a bit off track.

From left, Lorél Medina, Michael Peña and Eva Longoria in “Frontera.” -Photo courtesy of rogerebert.com
From left, Lorél Medina, Michael Peña and Eva Longoria in “Frontera.”
-Photo courtesy of rogerebert.com

 

“A Five Star Life”

 

There are some absolutely beautiful locations — the interiors of high-class hotels as well as the regions in which they’re situated — in “A Five Star Life” (Angelika). But the plot set against them is rather pallid.

Maria Sole Tognazzi’s film is essentially a character study of a woman who visits the plush establishments in the employ of a rating agency; she judges whether the places remain worthy of the five-star status that is the highest of accolades.

Despite the apparent glamour of her job, however, Irene comes to feel lonely and disappointed in her life, particularly after she has a fight with her ditzy sister and her best friend — an ex-boyfriend with whom she has a close platonic relationship — learns that he is going to become a father and grows increasingly distant. (The picture’s original Italian title, “Viaggio sola,” was far more expressive of the theme.)

The problem with the film is that it lacks pace and rhythm, meandering along without much sense of purpose.

Perhaps that is intended to mirror the protagonist’s regimented but oddly directionless life. But it certainly doesn’t make for a five-star picture.

 

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