Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam.
Written by: Dennis Lehane based on his short story.
Starring: Tom Hardy (Bob), Noomi Rapace (Nadia), James Gandolfini (Cousin Marv), Matthias Schoenaerts (Eric Deeds), John Ortiz (Detective Torres), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Detective Romsey), Michael Aronov (Chovka), Morgan Spector (Andre), Ann Dowd (Dottie).
I have read most of Dennis Lehane’s novels, and one of the things that always strikes me as I read them is how often they sneak up on you – how the start out as little more than genres stories, but end up at a much deeper, darker place that illuminates some darkness in humanity. With the exception of Shutter Island (which is perhaps Lehane’s worst book, but was made into the best adaptation of his work by Martin Scorsese), this gradual darkening doesn’t come in the form of a twist ending as much as a slow descent into the darkness of the material that eventually becomes clear. I haven’t read the short story that The Drop is based on, but the film version does the same basic thing. It starts out as seemingly a movie about a bar used as a drop for mob cash, and the men who work there – who are on the fringes of criminal activity. But the last few scenes take this seemingly straight forward story into some very dark, disturbing places.
The film stars Tom Hardy, in another of his string of remarkable performances, as Bob – who has worked in Cousin Marv’s bar for years, and tells anyone who asks that he's just the bartender – nothing else. He's a big man, but is seemingly gentle and kind – the kind of guy who when he’s walking alone at night and hears a dog whining, he stops to investigate. He finds a pit-bull puppy in the garbage can outside of the house of Nadia (Noomi Rapace) – who had no idea the dog was there. The dog had been badly abused, but Nadia cleans the dog up, and soon Bob is taking care of the dog – who he falls in love with. Nadia also loves the dog – and is soon hanging out with both Bob and the dog – who they name Rocco. The relationship between the two develops slowly. Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) used to own that bar, and was a low level gangster and loan shark, but 10 years ago, he sold out to the Chechens who wanted to move into the Brooklyn neighborhood, and who Marv decided not to go to war with. It’s a decision he still regrets. He used to be someone, and now he’s nothing – and that makes him angrier than anything. Then two things happen that set the plot of the movie into motion. The first is a robbery at the bar – one that the Chechens and the Detective Torres (John Ortiz) are suspicious of. The second is the appearance of Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenarts) – Nadia’s ex-boyfriend, who shows up on Bob’s door, and tells him that the dog is his – and Bob doesn’t do what he says, he’ll take the dog back.
Hardy has slowly become one of the best, most interesting actors working today. Already this year, he delivered a stunning performance as a Welsh-man in Locke – where he spent the entire movie in his car, by himself, talking to various people on the phone. His accent in that movie is precise and memorable – and his Brooklyn accent here is just as memorable. Hardy never seems to sound the same in any two movies – think back to his work in Bronson or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Lawless – to see what I mean. He plays Bob as a sort of gentle giant – calm, quiet, at times he almost appears to be a little slow. But from the beginning we sense something not quite right about him – he doesn’t get flustered by a rather grisly delivery, and while he goes out of his way to avoid conflict, we sense you don’t want to get on his bad side. Gandolfini, in his final screen role, delivers one of his best big screen performances – he is quiet too, his shoulders hunched from carrying too much weight. He’s more bitter than anything else – bitter that after everything he’s gone through, he is still broke, still working at the same bar, and is being pushed around by people he hates. It’s a brilliant performance by Gandolfini. Schoenarts, who like Hardy is becoming one of the more interesting actors working today, is also great as Eric Deeds – a somewhat unhinged, violent man who wants everyone to know he is unhinged and violent – but for all his talk, we don’t actually see him do anything. Unfortunately the film basically wastes Rapace – who is good in the role – but unlike the three men in the movie she isn’t given much depth to play – there’s not as much going on beneath the surface of her character – she is precisely who she appears to be.
This is the second film by director Michael R. Roskam, following the Academy award nominated Bullhead (for Foreign Language film) also starring Schoenarts. That film and this one share some things in common in their portrait of wounded masculinity. But I think The Drop is the better, stronger, deeper film. The film is low on plot, and moves at a rather leisurely paced right up until its rather shocking ending. But that’s because the film isn’t really a plot driven movie – but a darker film about these men and the things they do. It’s not an overly original film, but with its performance, its dark visual look, and its effective ending, it’s still a knockout.