The Drop, 2014.
Directed by Michaël R. Roskam.
Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, Elizabeth Rodriguez, James Frecheville and John Ortiz.
Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost.
There’s a scene in The Drop where James Gandolfini’s character, known in his neighbourhood as Cousin Marv, tells his friend and natural successor Bob (Tom Hardy) that he used to be someone who demanded respect. A man for whom people would sit up straight when he walked into a room and a man who had his own stool in the bar he once owned. Now sat in his small home in The Bronx wearing a faded sweatshirt he resents the way in which his neighbourhood had changed. He resents the fact that Bob allows an old woman to run up a tab in the bar and sit on the same stool which was once reserved for him. “That meant something!” Marv yells.
“But it didn’t… ever. It was just a stool.” Bob calmly replies.
This short, simple but brilliantly acted scene encapsulates The Drop and the small world of the characters. Similarly to other films based on novels by Dennis Lehane (think Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River) the characters are tangled up in a past from which they can never fully escape, with a crime underpinning the story. The scene described above perfectly shows the differing opinions on what it means to have had a past and what it now means to live with it; it’s how these characters choose to live with what they’ve done that will shape their future.
Marv and Bob work in the aforementioned bar but Marv’s name is no longer above the sign outside. He used to be tough, but tougher, meaner people came in, took over, and that was that. In their world there are two types of people; those who take and those who give. Marv is a giver but he used to exert power but those days are behind him. Now the bar is a ‘drop bar’ where mob money is collected in envelopes and Marv finds himself working for men half his age and not even American. He can bitch and moan about it to his wife and to Bob, but he can do nothing about it when the men he is dealing with will put a nail through a man’s ankle as a warning. Is Bob a giver or a taker? The film explores his character fully and where his character is taken is both realistic and rewarding for the time we spend getting there.
At the centre of any good film are the characters and The Drop focuses the large majority of its time building on character so the film can earn its resolution. At the heart of the film is Bob’s relationship with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a woman he meets under the most strange yet original of circumstances; he finds a dog beaten and crying in her trash can whilst walking past her house. Together Bob and Nadia take care of the dog and Bob grows attached to it, even when the owner comes calling and demands it back. The owner is Eric Deeds, a man, like Bob and Marv, with a past and notorious around the neighbourhood; what the film does very well is slowly build the tension between Bob and Eric without ever exploding into action or violence until there is no other way out.
The screenplay from Lehane is full of looming threat and menace without needing to show it with actions. It’s a film where every line of dialogue is geared towards understanding the past, understanding character and motivation, and building a sense of a realistic world where we, the audience, would only ever truly feel safe in the comfort of the cinema. Whilst it doesn’t meet the highs of 2003’s Mystic River I feel the film fits in thematically with recent crime films such as Killing Them Softly and Out of the Furnace. All three pictures deal with a shift between the old ways and the new ways, be that economically, industrially, or topographically.
If The Drop has faults they lie in the imbalance between the character moments and the crime story. The crime element offers nothing new and people skimming money from the mob is something we’ve seen often before, but as I mentioned, the crime element underpins the movie but does not drive it thematically. The opening and closing voice over feels added on as an afterthought, whilst the film comes dangerously close to partly undoing its great work with too many scenes which could have been the finale and overstaying the natural conclusion.
What elevates the film is the acting and direction because this could so easily have been a clichéd crime story in the hands of less talent. Tom Hardy shows again why he is easily one of the most exciting and dependable actors working today as he commits fully to the role, showing tick and mannerisms you’d use to see regularly from De Niro, Pacino, Brando. Hardy has yet to make a film which comes close to those actors’ best work but he never disappoints. In one of his last roles, James Gandolfini adds a real sense of gravitas without stretching himself greatly but his chemistry with Hardy shows in every scene they share and provide viewers looking for a realism often missing from many films today with something to salivate over.
To be quite honest I could have watched an entire film of Bob, Marv, and Nadia without the crime story involved as the characters as so well written and the performance perfectly realised, but that would have been quite a different film. What The Drop delivers is a slow burning tale of hidden pasts and uncertain futures and it does so very well.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.