The Drop (2014) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for some strong violence and pervasive language.
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Michael Aronov
Director: Michael R. Roskam
Screenplay: Dennis Lehane (from his short story, "Animal Rescue")
Review published September 15, 2014
The Drop is getting most of its buzz for being James Gandolfini's (Enough Said, Zero Dark Thirty) final film, but it's a good one, especially for the late actor in a sizable supporting role. Gandolfini's playing Cousin Marv, a former bar owner and two-bit criminal who has sold off his business to bigger fish who moved into the area several years back when he ended up owing them some money. Tom Hardy (Locke, The Dark Knight Rises) plays Marv's bartender and actual cousin, Bob Saganowski, who is shown as kind of a dumb but loyal guy who finds a pit-bull, a dumb but loyal dog, in the trash at the residence of a waitress named Nadia (Rapace, Prometheus), with whom he forms an instant bond. Too bad that both the dog, whom is named Rocco soon after his rescue, and the girl may be damaged goods from the hands of the creep named Eric (Schoenaerts, Rust and Bone) who won't leave Bob alone. We find that nothing's unrelated in this town, whose inhabitants criss-cross each other in a variety of ways that has us question just who is loyal to whom.
The setting is a fictional representation of Brooklyn in winter, one almost completely run by Chechen thugs who strong-arm most of the neighborhood businesses to be fronts for their illicit activities. Bars like Marv's are used as "drops", where money owed to the criminals is delivered surreptitiously and picked up by people at designated times like clockwork. Trouble brews for Marv when a night's money is collected in an armed robbery. The crooks make off with $5,000 of money to go to the Chechens, and he's on the hook to find out who did it, or to pay it back.
The Brooklyn of The Dropis one that comes completely from the mind of noted crime author Dennis Lehane, (author of the books that would be turned into the movies Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone, and Mystic River) who also provides the adaptation (his first theatrically released effort), taken from his short story entitled, "Animal Rescue". The animal refers directly, of course, to Rocco, though it could apply to most of this cast of characters, who each have particular need of salvation. For years, Bob attends the soon-to-be closing Catholic church in the neighborhood, but never takes communion, showing his level of interest in things but never really feels motivated to become a part of it. Rocco (whom Bob names after seeing the visage of Saint Rocco, the patron saint of dogs, the sick, and falsely accused people -- no coincidences there) is a rare addition to his life; Nadia has to give Bob every instruction on what to get to take care of a dog, because this is a man who seemingly has never wanted someone to be a part of his life either.
Many of the thematic underpinnings of the movie have to do with possession. Everyone wants to own, but no one wants any responsibility, whether it's for a dog, a bar, or massive amounts of cash -- they all want these things, but it's never in their best interest to have a direct claim, because then they are culpable if things go awry. Better to let someone else take care of it, but still reap the benefit of ownership when the situation is suitable.
The Drop is directed by Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead), an Oscar-nominated Belgian filmmaker helming for the first time in English. It's a very fine job from the the director, but this is really an actor's showcase. Roskam is blessed with a solid cast up and down the line, despite the fact that few among the cast are New Yorkers, much less American. Nevertheless, they're all convincing, especially Hardy as the meek bartender who, like puppy-dog Rocco, is sweet and gentle, but could mature into a dangerous sort of animal that pit bulls have the reputation to be, especially when put into the proper circumstances.
If you're a fan of Gandolfini, of course, you'll want to catch this last hurrah, but I'd extend recommendations also to fans of Hardy, Lehane, and just slow-burn crime dramas with a flair for offbeat humor and punchy dialogue. Though there are moments when characters and conversation can seem a bit odd, there's a refreshing aspect to the way Lehane tells his tale, with appropriate motifs, themes, and foreshadowing, that shows he's an author in his element. It's all about abused, neglected and abandoned souls in fiery Hell hoping for a 'drop' of water to quench their thirst, perpetually looking for someone who'll accept them, scars and all.
©2014 Vince Leo