Writer Dennis Lehane
Starring Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace
Runtime 106 mins
Adapted from his own short story Animal Rescue, Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone) trades in his usual haunt of the Boston projects for Brooklyn’s criminal underground ‘drop’ bars. Tom Hardy stars as Bob Saginowski, a good-natured bartender who works in his cousin Marv’s bar that also happens to be an establishment chosen to store local Chechen (“not Chechnyan” he corrects an unappreciative Marv) gangsters’ money as it switches between hands, a.k.a a ‘drop bar’. However, an ill-planned robbery and an abused (adorable) puppy bring irreversible changes to Bob’s quiet life.
As the English language debut of Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam, The Drop retains much of the gritty tension of his Oscar nominated Bullhead (2011) while also incorporating its excellent lead, Matthias Schoenaerts. As Bob, Hardy leads the tour-de-force cast, with his thick Brooklyn accent and ‘it is how it is’ attitude. Hardy is fantastic at attributing magnetic warmth to this seemingly simple character, whose scenes with his puppy say more about his caring nature than any dialogue could. The fact alone that you are watching Hardy when Rocco the puppy is on screen is, honestly, a testament to his commanding performance. He manages to tread a difficult line between naïve purity and merciless strength, a line you wouldn’t know existed until you met Bob. Schoenaerts is the subtle but psychotic Eric Deeds, who attempts to reclaim ownership of the said puppy Bob adopts. Schoenaerts’ quiet unpredictability makes every scene he is in viscerally unnerving. The film also notably contains James Gandolfini’s final feature film performance, and although not his most remarkable character – the has-been tough guy Marv recalls a begrudged Tony Soprano – he gives an invaluable performance, if slightly melancholic to watch. Noomi Rapace adds vulnerability to the sharp countenance of Nadia, a waitress with a troubled past whom, like Bob, is drawn into dangerous circumstances out of her control. Lastly, John Ortiz is Detective Torres, who is attempting the unachievable task of doing his job – upholding the law – in a place in which the law has no jurisdiction.
Roskam’s gritty visual style lends itself well to the Brooklyn backdrop and his unflinching attitude to (only occasional) violence successfully provides an atmosphere of uneasiness and brutality. This is a world in which actions have consequences that, in a tragic manner, people choose to forget. In tradition with his writing, Lehane creates a multi-layered, ruthless criminal landscape and a diverse array of characters to explore the complexity of morality and its enactment. Lehane’s world depicts a diversity of motivations from its merciless gangsters, desperate robbers and bitter civilians that causes you to evaluate the divisions between moral, legal and actual power. Similarly to the other screen adaptations of Lehane’s novels, The Drop includes the presence of the Police as an out-of-place source of legal authority in an illegal world. Also, in true Lehanian manner there is an unpredictable and exciting twist, a transformative plot turn that leaves you re-evaluating both what you have just watched and your decided reaction to it.
The Drop was at risk of becoming another forgettable crime drama, but the collaborative effort of its dedicated cast, rich source material and exceptional director elevates it into a provocative and enjoyable film that keeps you thinking after its credits roll. The neo-noir tone is challenged and upturned in a modernising lift that tells a truly Lehanian morality tale, leaving the audience in always welcomed intrigue. A rare, and what will probably become an unfortunately overlooked, genre-piece gem.