by Kathie Smith
Forget Rick Alverson’s The Comedy or any other modern notion you have about Williamsburg and the surrounding areas, Brooklyn is a gritty and dangerous borough made up of working class white guys, dive bars, and the Chechen mob. Regardless of its validity, that’s the old school bubble in which The Drop exists. A movie that is equal parts machismo and mystery thanks to director Michaël Roskam and writer Dennis Lehane respectively, The Drop coasts on the dull buzz of tough guy character study told by way of stolen money, dilemmas of trust, accidental love, and man’s best friend.
Bob (Tom Hardy) works as a bartender at Uncle Marv’s Bar with the intention of quietly keeping everyone happy—the regulars with a sense of loyalty, the woman who can never afford her tab, and the lowly establishment’s namesake Marv (James Gandolfini). But Marv, far past middle age and far from being content, can’t help but wallow in the bitterness of losing his bar to the Chechen run mafia while acting as their puppet manager. When the bar is held up for 5 grand late one night, Chovka Umanov, rightful owner and Chechen godfather, circles Marv and Bob like a shark demanding that he get his money back or else.
Director: Michaël Roskam
Producers: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Mike Larocca
Writer: Dennis Lehane
Cinematographer: Nicolas Karakatsanis
Editor: Christopher Tellefsen
Music: Marco Beltrami, Raf Keunen
Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Michael Aronov, Morgan Spector, Ann Dowd, Elizabeth Rodriguez
US Theatrical Release: September 12, 2014
US Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The holdup, as it turns out, is only a ruse, and a dangerous one at that, to get Uncle Marv’s Bar chosen as a “drop bar”—a place where all the dirty money from across town gets covertly dropped, safe from the streets and safe from the police. As stated by Marv, who clearly has his own shady intentions: “What’s the safest airline to fly after a plane crash?” So goes the logic, what’s the safest bar to pick for a drop bar after a hold up? Although Maylaysia Airline sadly demonstrates that the only probability in chance is improbability, the plan proves golden and Uncle Marv’s is chosen as the drop bar for Superbowl Sunday.
The Drop, however, is not content with telling a straightforward story of thug versus thug, instead laying random pieces of a much larger puzzle that includes Marv, Bob and some skeletons in the neighborhood’s closet. One of the mysterious pieces emerges as Bob, walking home from work, discovers an injured puppy in a trashcan. He digs the poor pup out of the can that just happens to be in the front yard of Nadia (Noomi Rapace) who just happens to be something of an expert on dogs. Bob decides to keep the dog but begs the help of Nadia, creating a friendship that draws out Nadia’s ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), the neighborhood’s psycho and the plot’s wild card.
Eric lurks around with an air of palpable violence, showing up at Bob’s house and Uncle Marv’s, claiming ownership of both the puppy and Nadia, and threatening Bob along the way. Bob, skillfully played by Hardy, holds the sympathetic pulse of the movie in his hands with the impression that he is a good guy caught in bad circumstances. But he has an inner duplicity that the movie tries to convey in his commitment to Sunday Mass versus his refusal to take communion. We suspect that Bob is not nearly as thick as he seems and the mystery surrounding his character effectively builds a certain amount of tension, specifically in regards to his ambiguous ability to protect Nadia and the puppy—both easy targets in a man’s world.
The Drop, a low-level gangster movie in a very long line of low-level gangster movies, will forever be remembered as Gandolfini’s feature film swan song in a supporting role he was built for—a crime syndicate version of Joe the Plumber, a soulful dog with a bite that is far worse than his bark. Understated and precise, his performance will not be a revelation but a reminder of his talents. Hardy is a good counterpart for Gandolfini, rounding out a complementary duo of strong, silent and unpredictable. As nuanced as Hardy’s performance is however, his character is pure paint-by-numbers with little dimension. (Each passing film with Hardy--Warrior, Lawless, Locke—makes you wonder if he will ever find another role like Bronson.) Far worse news is Rapace, who is given little more to do other than raise clichéd red flags (with little substance) of a troubled past. John Ortiz, as a hard nose detective, and Ann Dowd, as Marv’s frustrated sister, add some unsuspected texture to the story that Rapace can’t.
If broad-based guy psychology is something you haven’t tired of, The Drop offers compelling entertainment. Adapting his own short story titled Animal Rescue (a name that was thankfully left on the cutting room floor for the film version), Lehane finds a good match in Belgian director Michaël Roskam, who jumps into the Hollywood fray after his impressive but heavy-handed debut Bullhead. The male angst that dominates Bullhead finds its way into The Drop but it lives in a much more interesting space thanks to Lehane’s script. Together the two patiently assemble an ambience of doom without tipping their hand to the movie’s surprises or twists, most of which read like true crime of the everyday underworld. In the end, though, The Drop relies too heavily on an empty romance for its emotional humph, especially for its epilogue, which make the film feel like a shrug after a good hour of hard jabs.