Helmed by Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam, The Drop is a curious but thrilling crime picture. The 2014 movie features a screenplay by Dennis Lehane and is based on his 2009 short story Animal Rescue. The script, coupled with the careful cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis, weaves a convoluted tale of cold and hot moments. The acting is always on-point and often spectacular.
The Drop marks the last feature film appearance by James Gandolfini and he cuts an imposing, fascinating character. He rings with authenticity, swallowing up a role that isn’t necessarily against type but one that certainly packs a wallop. He’s joined by some serious players, like Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace.
Hardy stars as Bob Saginowski, a Brooklyn bartender. Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) owns the bar, which also serves as a “drop” for illegal money handled by a Chechen gang. One night, Bob discovers a dog beaten and left in a trash can. He rescues it and meets Nadia (Rapace), who reluctantly helps him with the pit bull pup.
The bar is robbed by two masked gunmen and this sets Detective Torres (John Ortiz) on the case. The Chechen’s are also pissed off because their money was stolen, but they have ways of getting what’s theirs. To complicate matters further, a creep named Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) turns out to be the dog’s original owner.
The Drop is a rather tortuous crime picture, but that’s not always a bad thing. Some of the finest films noir of the 1940s and 1950s manage to turn a byzantine plot into something special thanks to the sheer quality of production. Roskam nearly accomplishes this, sometimes drawing the eye away from the warren of Lehane’s plot and delivering gripping drama condensed to its humbler elements.
Hardy’s character is a fascinating piece of work, a reserved and empathetic soul at the core willing to handle some pretty foul business. The Drop sprinkles clues about his nature, like memorial placards that remain in Bob’s home or little details involving the dog he names Rocco or his theological considerations. He minds his own business. He just tends bar.
Bob and Nadia develop a relationship around the dog and they don’t take the expected romantic path, which is kind of invigorating. She is a damaged soul, wrapped up in a life of aggressive men. When she first meets Bob, she takes pictures of his driver’s licence and says that she sent the picture to four people. She has to be careful.
Marv is another fascinating character. He lives with his sister, played by the grossly underrated Ann Dowd, and is contending with regret. He’s in deep and he’s more than just the owner of a bar. There’s a reason his saloon is a “drop” and there are reasons that he used to be respected. Those days are gone and he’s not looking forward to the future, which may or may not involve trips to Europe with his sis.
This is Lehane’s first produced screenplay, despite having his work made into other successful pictures like Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone. Some consider the Boston native a master of highbrow pulp fiction and in a sense that’s true, but his first screenplay takes a few too many left turns for its own good.
Still, this is a good movie for the most part. Lehane seems to want to evoke a sense of poetry in how his characters speak, but the actors are game to take things further. And there are interesting shifts in tempo and movement, like The Drop is always trying to get its bearings. That can be both unsettling and distracting, even as Roskam keeps things mostly afloat.
Seeing Gandolfini is always a treat and this picture has special resonance because it shows him still functioning as a master of his craft. And Hardy is thrilling as a complex, difficult character. There are some awkward complications and distractions, sure, but the quality of acting and the fine direction makes The Drop a respectable motion picture.