D: Michaël R. Roskam / 106m
Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Michael Aronov, Ann Dowd, James Frecheville, Tobias Segal
Cousin Marv’s is a bar managed by Marv (Gandolfini). It serves as a “drop bar” for money owed to the Chechen mob (who own the bar). Helping Marv is long-time friend Bob Saginowski (Hardy), a quiet, brooding man who appears somewhat slow-witted. While on his way home one day, Bob discovers an injured dog that’s been dumped in a trash can. As he rescues it, Nadia (Rapace), whose trash can it is, sees him and though wary of Bob at first, helps him with the dog.
The bar is robbed one night by two masked gunmen. They get away with just the money from the till, but it’s the Chechen mob’s money, and Marv will need to get it back. Meanwhile, a local hoodlum, Eric Deeds (Schoenaerts) begins following Bob around. Eventually he visits Bob at his home and tells him he’s the dog’s owner and can prove it, but he makes only veiled threats about going to the police if Bob causes any trouble over it. Deeds is suspected of killing a man named Richie Whelan ten years before, and has a reputation for being unpredictable and violent. It also turns out that he and Nadia (whom Bob is slowly getting closer to) were in a relationship once.
Later on, Bob and Marv find a trash bag that contains the severed arm of one of the gunmen and the money they stole. Bob disposes of the arm, cleans the money of the blood on it, and gives it to the Chechen mob’s enforcer Chovka (Aronov). In return, Chovka tells Bob and Marv that the bar will be the “drop bar” on the upcoming Super Bowl night.
Deeds tells Bob that he wants $10,000 or he’ll go to the police about the dog. He arranges to meet Bob at his home to collect the money but he doesn’t show. Instead he goes to Nadia’s house and tells her they’ll be going away together that night; Nadia is too intimidated to do otherwise. That night, the night of the Super Bowl, they go to the bar where it becomes clear to Bob that Eric is looking to steal the money being dropped off for the mob.
Adapted by Dennis Lehane from his short story, Animal Rescue, The Drop is a quietly impressive, deliberately paced crime drama that features strong performances from its four leads, intelligent direction, and a slow build up in tension that benefits the movie greatly. There’s not a lot that’s new here, but The Drop is a movie where there’s just enough misdirection and plot-tweaking to keep the audience guessing at what’s going to happen next.
A big part of this is due to the character of Bob, as mentioned above, a quiet, brooding man who leads a simple life but lacks certain social skills (his budding romance with Nadia is awkward yet sweet, and proceeds at a hesitant pace that suits them both). As the movie progresses it’s revealed that he and Marv were part of a crew before the Chechens came along, and thanks to Lehane’s well-constructed screenplay and Hardy’s compelling performance, the viewer begins to get a sense that there’s more to Bob than meets the eye. In his dealings with Deeds, Bob is taciturn and compliant but there’s a definite hint of repressed menace there; part of the energy of these scenes is derived from waiting to see if Bob will respond with violence or not.
The threat of violence is palpable throughout, and when it does happen it has an almost cathartic effect, releasing the tension so effectively constructed by Lehane and director Roskam. This is a movie where so much is on the line, and so much is dependent on people doing what’s expected of them that it becomes unnerving when things come to a head. But through it all, Bob treats each new development in such a matter-of-fact way it’s like he’s just an observer. He’s the rock around which the movie is built, and in a role that would defeat a lot of actors, Hardy brings a subtlety and a quiet grace to the role.
In support, Gandolfini reminds us of just how gifted an actor he was, imbuing Marv with a melancholic bitterness that reflects his dismay at being ousted by the Chechens. He’s a man who hasn’t been able to move on, forced to live with his sister (Dowd), and always harking back to the days when he had respect in the neighbourhood. It’s an intense performance, full of the brio we’ve come to expect from Gandolfini, and as his last released movie, a fitting end to his career. As Nadia, Rapace is, somewhat predictably, reduced to playing the girlfriend who becomes a pawn in the game that Deeds plays with Bob. It’s a role that needs a bit more depth given to it in the screenplay, but Rapace uses her curious looks to good effect, and her scenes with Hardy are refreshingly appealing. It falls to Schoenaerts to provide the main thread of menace, and he does so by making Deeds unpleasant to watch at all times, his eyes showing a lack of amenity and concern for others that is often disturbing. It could have been a much showier performance, but Schoenaerts gets it just right, keeping the viewer on edge throughout.
All this is orchestrated with aplomb by director Roskam making his English language debut after the success of Bullhead (2011). He’s a director with a clear, precise style of movie making, and he frames his scenes with a refreshing lack of artifice, keeping things simple and without recourse to odd camera angles or visual trickery. He’s aided in this by DoP Nicholas Karakatsanis and editor Christopher Tellefsen; together the trio’s efforts make for a surprisingly low-key but effective viewing experience. Roskam also keeps the various sub-plots, particularly the one involving the murder of Richie Whelan, as relevant as they need to be, and as potent.
Rating: 8/10 – a riveting crime drama that sports four terrific performances, The Drop is a confident, compelling movie that offsets familiarity with attention to detail; a slow burn movie that yields a plethora of riches and features a killer pay-off line.