2014, R, 110 mins.
2014, R, 110 mins.
Tom Hardy as Bob / Noomi Rapace as Nadia / James Gandolfini as Marv / John Ortiz as Detective Torres / Matthias Schoenaerts as Eric
Directed by Michaël R. Roskam / Written by Dennis Lehane, based on his short story
DROP is a mob movie of a decidedly different breed.
It’s concerned more with the
behind-the-scenes lowlife bit players that play small, but significant roles in the larger
food chain of the mafia. The
film places great emphasis on characterizing these bottom-feeders, some of
which are aging crewmembers whose best days are long behind them, whereas
others are relatively young and honor bound workers that harbor deep secrets from the
past. Very few genre films
like THE DROP manage to do such a virtuoso job of establishing and
fleshing out these fringe figures and how they figure into the larger
scheme of the criminal operations they're intertwined with; it might be
the least glamorous portrayal of mob life that I’ve seen.
Alas, that’s part of the intoxicating hook of Belgian director Michael R. Roskam’s (making his English language debut) film, adapted in turn from the 2009 short story ANIMAL RESCUE by Dennis Lehane (making his feature film screenwriting debut with his own adaptation here): The film creates a compulsively fascinating portrait of the comings and goings of these crooks and, more importantly, places great emphasis on establishing the mood and atmosphere of the tough, no-nonsense neighborhoods that they reside in.
certainly has thematic echoes to other past noteworthy Lehane literary
works that have segued to the silver screen (like MYSTIC RIVER and GONE,
BABY, GONE, two films that reveled in strong middle class
character dynamics and a stirringly realistic evocation of the blue collar
microcosm). Yet, despite its
narrative familiarity, THE DROP crafts a tension filled – and, at times,
darkly amusing – exploration of its sometimes foolish, but sometimes
unpredictably unhinged and dangerous characters. There’s an unmistakable aura in the film that keeps you off
balance and unsure of what’s to come next.
plants viewers right into the thick of things from the get-go as we're
quickly introduced to the seedy underbelly that these criminals work in.
Two of the lowlifes in question are Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy,
proving here – as he has done countless times before
chameleon-like prowess as an actor), a bartender at a local watering hole
that’s managed by his cousin, Marv (the late James Gandolfini, his final
film performance). Bob is
unwaveringly committed to both his profession and to Marv, the latter
being, at one time, a “big player” in the Brooklyn mob, but unfortunately
fell from grace due to a series of unforeseen setbacks.
Chechen gangsters now own Marv’s bar as a “drop” location for
them to funnel and launder money whenever they see fit.
For the most part, Bob and Marv run a very tight and smooth
operation for their employers.
the bar is robbed at gunpoint one evening, leaving Marv and Bob $5000
light in mob money, which predictably aggravates their bosses (they
ostensibly tell Marv that unless they find those responsible that he will
have to front them back the lost money, which Marv does not have).
Bob is steadfastly dedicated to help his cousin find the
perpetrators, but his own life gets more complicated in the meantime when
he rescues and adopts a beaten and battered pit bull puppy that he found
abandoned in a trash can. Bob
also befriends a local woman named Nadia (the always wonderful Noomi
Rapace), as it was her own trash can where to poor dog was found.
However, just as Bob begins to develop an affinity and love for his
new pet, the previous owner shows up at his door, Eric (a creepy Matthias
Schoenaerts), who also happens to be – on top of an animal abuser –
the mentally unstable ex-boyfriend of Nadia.
While Bob tries to deal with the blackmailing demands of Eric, he
begins to learn of a larger conspiracy afoot I terms of the real culprits
of the bar robbery.
THE DROP, at
least as far as gangster films go, is a refreshing low-key affair, and
director Roskam does an assured job of staging all of his scenes with
an understated level of keen observation.
There’s a simply and minimalist nonchalance about the film in
which it casually observes its criminals from an objective distance, which
allows us to immerse ourselves more thoroughly into the characters’
headspaces and their dire predicaments. The film is leisurely and patient in his forward narrative
momentum and does a stellar job of juxtaposing and cutting between all of
the various subplots and characters to the point where everything seems to
coalesce together smoothly. As
the film slowly builds and develops to a surprising conclusion, it’s all
the more exhilarating and suspense-filled because of the manner that it
draws viewers into its world and creates tension and intrigue from the
bottom-up. Roskam and Lehane never feel inclined to rush us towards its
shocking climax or force-feed us plot twists along the way, which is to
the film’s credit.
Is Tom Hardy one
of the greatest living actors today?
Considering his recent resume of superlative film work (BRONSON, WARRIOR,
DARK KNIGHT RISES, this year’s LOCKE,
and now THE DROP) one can certainly make a strong claim to the
affirmative. The London-born
Hardy played a beyond credible Welsh man in LOCKE and here he more than
fully and authentically embodies the thick Brooklyn accented Bob with a
deft combination of emotional sweetness, subtle vulnerability and
uncertainty, and a gentle, yet deeply intimidating level of rugged
masculinity that has performance reverberations of Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY
and even Marlon Brando in ON THE
WATERFRONT. Not only
must Hardy engineer a performance of quiet sincerity and punch
drunk charm, but he also has to relay an inwardly complicated man whose
real motivations (and past) must never come to the forefront until just
the right moment presents itself. There’s
no denying that every waking second that Hardy is on screen in THE DROP
the film has an undeniable pulsation of fascination.
Hardy’s monumental performance stature here sort of stymies the impact
of seeing Gandolfini in his last film role, but he’s also rock solid
playing his perpetually desperate and conflicted small-time crook that
lets a series of bad choices ultimately get the better of him.
The film is also complimented by Rapace’s turn as Nadia, and her
wonderfully nuanced scenes with Hardy have a thankless level of unforced
chemistry. I especially liked
Schoenaerts as the terrifically despicable Eric, who pops in and out of Bob
and Nadia’s lives and gives THE DROP a layer of palpable menace that
never once seems routine or predictable.
THE DROP is so confident and economical in terms of fully
developing most of its characters, the only hiccup in this department
being a detective (John Ortiz) that investigates the bar robbery that has
his own deep suspicions about the nature of the event and Bob’s involvement
with the mob. He’s the only
persona in THE DROP that feels superfluous at best.
Still, there’s so very much to truly admire in THE DROP, especially for how it develops its story with a precision and confidence and never once seems to tack on events and subplots for the purposes of advancing the story. Roshkam and Lehane seem to have a real affinity and insightful understanding for their low-level criminals and the grungy world they populate. And you couldn’t possibly ask for a more electrifying one-two punch than Hardy and Gandolfini leading the charge.
And that Hardy…man…he’s all kinds of crazy good here. I'm starting to think that there's nobody that he can’t play at this point.