Film Review: The Drop
Prize-winning author Dennis Lehane is no stranger to the intricacies of Hollywood. After seeing three of his novels – Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island – made into high profile movies directed by and starring some of Hollywood’s “A- listers”, Lehane was not too surprised when production company Chernin Entertainment bought the movie rights to one of his short stories, called Animal Rescue. Published in 2009, the characters and plot of Animal Rescue had been on Lehane’s mind for a long time, as they had been the material of what Lehane has called “a failed novel”, which he shelved in 2002.
Lehane’s surprise came later, when Chernin Entertainment approached him to write the script for the movie, and Lehane – who had previously refused to adapt his own novels into a script on account of feeling too close to the material – got the opportunity to re-visit the story’s characters who were still “floating around waiting to pop in”. It is lucky Lehane did have the chance to rework his original short story, as the resulting movie The Drop – directed by Michael R. Roskam, and starring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini – is a visual tour de force of the elements that distinguish Lehane as the king of “Boston Noir” writing.
Unlike the short story, which is set in Dorchester, Boston, The Drop is set in a stark and wintery Brooklyn. Not the Brooklyn of trendy hipsters, but a working class, catholic, claustrophobic Brooklyn, where the sense of foreboding seems embedded in the landscape itself. This is also the place where “money changes hands all night long” – the kind of money that needs to be kept off the record – and where certain bars are designated places for the surreptitious dropping of large sums of money, which are held and then handed over to the area’s kingpin.
Cousin Marv’s Bar is one of those places. Marv, himself (Gandolfini), once a mover and a shaker in the neighbourhood, has been forcibly persuaded to hand his bar over to the menacing, local crime boss Chovka (played by Michael Aronov), and to collect money for him on a regular basis. Seemingly unassuming and somewhat awkward bar tender Bob Saginowski (Hardy) operates around these arrangements in a quiet, matter of fact manner. It is obvious within the first couple of scenes that Bob has a big heart, as he gently defends himself to Marv for giving free drinks to a group of regulars commemorating the death of a friend, Richie Whelan, who was murdered ten years ago, and for letting another regular – a lonely old lady – order drinks without paying her bar tab.
The notions of loneliness and isolation permeate the atmosphere and characterisations in this movie, where people like Marv and Bob operate alongside each other with an obvious weightiness of things that remain unsaid. Bob attends catholic mass every day, but refuses to take confession, and lives a solitary life by himself in his parent’s house, a place where time seems to have stood still since the 1970s. Then two events happen setting Bob’s life on a new trajectory: First, Bob rescues a small, abused pit-bull puppy from a rubbish bin outside a house belonging to an enigmatic young waitress called Nadia (played by Noomi Rapace from the “Girl with a Dragoon Tattoo” trilogy), and then Cousin Marv’s bar is robbed by two armed gunmen who escape with the drop money, placing both Bob and Marv in danger of Chovka’s retribution. These two seemingly unrelated events unfold on parallel tracks for a while, until an unhinged and extremely creepy Eric Deeds (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), the alleged killer of Richie Whelan, shows up at Bob’s house demanding to have his dog returned to him.
The Drop is James Gandolfini’s final appearance in a movie before his sudden death in June 2013, and the role as cousin Marv seems to have been tailor made for him. Always larger than life in many ways, Gandolfini seems sublimely comfortable in the role of the disillusioned and desperate small-time crook, and I fully expected this movie to be owned by his performance alone. But, while Gandolfini certainly lights up every scene that he is in, it is Tom Hardy’s performance that makes this movie worth watching. Hardy’s portrayal of Bob Saginowski is eerily powerful and nuanced, drawing you in slowly, quietly, and to the point where looking away – even if you want to – just simply isn’t an option anymore.
This movie is definitely smarter than your average gangster movie. It plays with (and delivers) on the usual crime/thriller conventions, but there is a whole other undercurrent to the movie that is embodied by Bob and the rescue of the dog. An elevated genre in many ways, The Drop is the kind of movie that requires post-movie “deconstruction”, where you try and fit together how the themes of loneliness, desperation, and salvation – and the choices we make that lead to either of those three conditions – result in the final “big reveal” towards the end of the movie. Entertaining, perfectly cast, and spellbindingly gritty, yet with some genuinely funny moments, The Drop is one movie that you will not want to miss.