(2014, Michaël R. Roskam)
Dennis Lehane's "Animal Rescue" is a near-perfect little story with a pleasing twist in the tale. It establishes its world and people quickly and economically, and it has a beginning, middle and an end that make it feel heftier and more grounded than it actually is. In adapting it and expanding it out to make an actual screenplay, Lehane has sacrificed some of it's lean beauty. But crucially he has kept that ending - still tremendously satisfying - and this cinematic version has its own specific compensations.
The story focuses on sad, lonely Brooklyn barkeep Bob (Tom Hardy) who finds a pit bull puppy in a bin on the way home from work one night. The bin belongs to Nadia (Noomi Rapace), similarly lonely. She persuades Bob to keep the animal and he finds his life transformed by it and his acquaintance with her. Transformed for the better until the arrival of Eric (Matthias Schoenarts), her violent ex-boyfriend, who claims he owns the dog, and trades on the reputation he has in the neighbourhood for the murder of one of Bob's old friends a decade before. All of that comes pretty much straight from the story. Lehane adds more material on Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), Bob's cousin and the bar owner, and his dealings with the Chechen gangsters who back him and organise the drops to the bar, and a dogged police detective (John Ortiz) who just can't help himself dig into the robbery that occurs in the first act of the film.
Roskam directs with a fine feel for wintry grit and seedy banality, from the bar itself to Bob's house, a mausoleum of sorts to his dead parents, and the whole thing recalls Sidney Lumet in it's minor-key pathos and quiet sense of menace.
The performances sell it - Hardy is terrific as the introverted Bob, allowing his slow realisations and determined decisions to play out in his eyes, while Gandolfini gives a great reading of bitterness and thwarted ambition in his last role, and Schoenarts is effortlessly threatening as Eric.
It all works, but never adds up to very much, however fine that ending is.