Cute Puppy and Dark Pasts in The Drop
Review by Daniel Rester
The Drop has lot going for it but is only a somewhat satisfying experience on the whole. It’s an interesting film that you wish would go a little further. But with Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini (in his last film) delivering Brooklyn-thick dialogue in crime story material, it is occasionally hard to resist.
Hardy plays Bob and Gandolfini plays Marv, two cousins who work in a bar. The joint is a “drop bar,” a place where criminals stash there money as it moves across the city. The two get into some heat with Chechen gangsters after the bar is robbed one night and some dirty money is taken.
Things get more complicated for Bob when he finds a hurt puppy in a trashcan one night. This brings a waitress named Nadia (Noomi Rapace) into his life, with the two caring for the dog and learning about connections to it. The robbery and dog plotlines also bring a detective (John Ortiz) and a creepy guy (Matthias Schoenaerts) into the picture, as well as a Chechen crime boss of sorts (Michael Aronov).
The film is written by Dennis Lehane, based on his short story “Animal Rescue.” Lehane is the author behind books like Gone, Baby, Gone (1998), Mystic River (2001), and Shutter Island (2003), all of which were later turned into well-received films. Lehane’s screenplay for The Drop has his usual American underbelly touches and layered characters, but it also has less mystery and strong emotion than some of his other writing. One can sense how this writing was based on a short story as well, as the setup is intriguing but the rest feels a bit stretched and padded with some standard crime elements. Still, Lehane knows how to write “quiet criminal lives” expertly for the most part.
The Drop is directed by Michael R. Roskam, the Belgian filmmaker behind the 2011 film Bullhead (which also starred Schoenaerts). Roskam makes his English-language debut here, and does a fine job at that. The director doesn’t bring too much energy to everything, which can make the film dull at times, but he certainly knows how to build a tense and lived-in world for the story and characters. The clean camera framing and subtly effective costumes and production design, along with the believable dialogue and actions, make it all seem real.
The film looks good and it has fine writing, but it all feels like its lacking a certain something. Maybe more stylistic juice? Maybe a more complex story? I don’t know. The drop bar idea and the cute puppy only go so far in being main story drives in my eyes, or the filmmakers just didn’t do enough with them. Each of the three main characters are interesting, but it felt like they deserved a more hard-hitting story to surround them.
I do know that the movie is elevated by Hardy’s performance. He is arguably one of the best actors working today, able to pull off accents and attitudes of all kinds. Here he comes with a Brando-like voice (sort-of) and an understated presence. Hardy brings a certain restraint and sweetness to this character, but he also knows how to show a simmering inner intensity and he gets to use his signature character “look.” This look, in my eyes, is something the actor is able to pull off where you just know his character is building up to mess somebody up later on.
Gandolfini is terrific as well as a has-been criminal type who wants to recapture his glory. With the smallest looks Gandolfini is able to show full ranges of emotion, and he makes us completely believe the character’s history and struggle. It’s great work, and also a reminder to just how brilliant of an actor Gandolfini was.
Rapace is pretty good as well, though I wish her character had a bit more to do. Instead she is basically just the string between the puppy, Bob, and Eric (Schoenaerts’ character). She deserves to get meatier roles since she certainly proved herself as an incredible actress in the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) film and its sequels. Schoenaerts and Aronov are strong as well, though they are reduced to being seedy side characters without too much depth. Finally, Ortiz’s character as the detective mostly feels useless except for he and Bob’s connections to a church.
The Drop is one of those crime dramas that is a step above average but nowhere near anything like something like The Departed (2006). The movie is worth watching for Hardy and some of the atmosphere, and especially for seeing Gandolfini in his final film appearance. The actor was an amazing talent and The Drop is a nice reminder of that.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).
MPAA Rating: R (for some strong violence and pervasive language).
Runtime: 1 hour and 46 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: September 12th, 2014.