The Drop (2014)
Dir: Michaël R. Roksam
The Drop is another film based on a Dennis Lehane story (like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone) which swaps out snowy Brooklyn for the usual Boston while retaining a strong sense of place. Like those previous Lehane adaptations, the world transposed to the screen here feels appropriately gritty and real. The story of familial responsibility and the sins of the past feels small by design, but is full of telling details (the chatter of barflies, how people act while alone)and strong performances (from a mostly foreign cast) that add richness. Tom Hardy (Bronson, Locke) once again proves chameleonic in the lead role, while the movie suffers from some pacing problems and odd character choices but remains interesting in spurts.
Hardy is Bob, a mumbling Brooklyn bartender with a soft spot for his booze-addled clients. His cousin Marv (James Gandolfini in his final screen appearance) is the bar’s namesake who long ago lost ownership to some Chechen gangsters who stood tall while Marv blinked and backed down. Marv’s Bar serves as a “drop” for gangsters to launder money through, as they surreptitiously drop off packages of cash to be safely stored for later retrieval. The stylish opening sequence of the film details the process of the drops elegantly in a fast-paced montage that’s right out of Scorsese’s oeuvre. However, as the plot moves forward it becomes clear that The Drop is more slow-burning character study than sweeping crime drama.
A late-night robbery by a pair of masked toughs incites events that will dredge up Bob and Marv’s hoodlum past while testing their moral mettle while a parallel thread involves Bob finding an abused puppy in his neighbour’s trash (the film’s original title was Animal Rescue). Bob quickly bonds with the pit bull but has a more tentative time with his mysterious neighbour Nadia (Noomi Rapace of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Hardy’s Bob is an anomaly as a protagonist – instead of being quick with a one-liner and a step ahead of everyone else, he’s actually kind of stupid and constantly stumbles over his words through a thick Brooklyn accent. Hardy brings his trademark physicality to the role and suggests more to this lug than the script gives him, but Bob’s motivations are often illusive. The Catholic imagery is laid on thick as Bob visits church daily, and remorse and sins of the past are recurring themes throughout.
Noomi Rapace is serviceable as Nadia, although the character’s wants and needs seem more like script machinations than organic traits and she ends up feeling like a plot device. The middle section of the film drags slightly as Bob and Nadia slowly circle one another and establish trust. Those meandering sections are broken up when Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts (from Michaël R. Roksam’s first feature Bullhead) appears as Nadia’s unstable ex. The imposing Schoenaerts proves to be a live wire that can hold his own against the intense Hardy, all while sporting a flawless accent as well. Gandolfini, while given less to do, gives a typically fine performance that will have film lovers feeling a twinge of sadness at a life and career cut short. His Marv is basically a sad sack alternate-reality Tony Soprano who’s full of regret after having never quite made it as a gangster.
The scope of the film is small, which should indicate that we get a deeper view of these character’s inner lives than what we’re given. While the wood-paneled basements and seedy bars of The Drop’s Brooklyn lend the film a unique flavour, I can’t help but wonder if there was more meat to these bones in some other script revision. Tellingly, it’s adapted from one of Lehane’s short stories and not from a full-length novel. As it is, the film does build to a satisfying (if rushed) conclusion that succeeds in lending context to Bob’s often odd behaviour in retrospect. The Drop is Roksam’s English-language debut and, while it doesn’t reach the heights of the foreign-language Oscar nominee Bullhead, it is instead a flawed film that examines morality through interactions as simple as caring for an abandoned dog.