Sometimes a film doesn’t need to do anything particularly special or innovative to stand out, and can get by on the strength of just doing the basics really well. This is a good example, a movie which ticks off plenty of urban crime drama cliches but does so with such a committed group of people that it doesn’t seem to matter. Very nicely-shot by Belgian director Michael R Roskam (whose debut work Bullhead is well worth a look), and built around a robust, nicely-crafted screenplay by the brilliant Boston novelist Dennis Lehane (whose books Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island have all been adapted into excellent films, and who also wrote some of the best episodes of The Wire and Boardwalk Empire), the basic foundations are strong enough for the rest of the film’s somewhat generic aspects to seem less relevant. Not every movie has to reinvent the wheel; given how often the simple things are fumbled it’s nice to see them done properly for a change.

Perhaps unfairly, the film is distractingly laced with a heavy dose of melancholy, being the final screen appearance of the wonderful James Gandolfini. As with so much of his work, he is almost effortlessly good here, deftly rolling a part around that isn’t much of a stretch for him but still gets the same meticulous attention to detail and compelling human traits that he brought to everything else he did. Just as impressive is Tom Hardy in the lead, continuing a run of carefully chosen scripts that showcase his range and versatility, further emphasising his fairly unique position as a film star whose sheer physicality is matched by more delicate character work. It’s this potent combination of committed, intelligent writing and a terrific group of very good actors that elevates the pulpy, well-worn crime plot into something a little more substantial, turning what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward potboiler into an impressive display of talent for those involved.

A familiar milkshake of various urban crime stories you've heard before5
When everyone involved is on top of their game like this, that doesn't actually matter very much7
Dennis Lehane's commitment to telling working class stories8
Tom Hardy's unique ability to juggle physical intimidation with sensitivity8
James Gandolfini was a brilliant actor and will be sorely missed9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • They don't talk to each other
7Overall Score

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