A film review by Craig J. Koban September 21, 2014

RANK: #24


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

THE 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.  

THE DROP 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. 



Lehane’s script 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 – his 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. 

Unfortunately, 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, LAWLESS, THE 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.  

Regrettably, 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.

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