THE DROP leads you to believe, from its trailer, cast and poster, not to mention the curriculum vitae of it’s accomplished screenwriter Dennis Lehane, that it is a shoot-em-up gangster-esque movie. Or maybe more of a neighborhood mob movie. It is however, in actuality, a character study. It is about identity, one’s haunting past, and what we so desperately want to believe ourselves to be. Much like the excellent and highly underrated 2012’s KILLING THEM SOFTLY, we are merely spectators to destinies already prescribed, but this time there’s a cute puppy along to cushion the ride. How do we make peace with the the deeds of our past? How do we try to walk a different line even though we know that our innate nature will fight us every step of the way? These are the central themes of THE DROP and for the most part they are played out with skill and elicit empathy.
It’s probably just my ever curious nature that made me want to understand more about the practical mechanics of how a drop location works, but suffice it to say that ‘Marv’s Bar’ serves as the crossroads for a vast number of illicit transactions in its Brooklyn neighborhood. Bob Saginowski, the lackluster but genial bartender at Marv’s is played by the current “It Man” Tom Hardy. Upon rescuing an injured puppy in a garbage can, and meeting the reticent, beautiful, and somewhat mysterious Nadia (Noomi Rapace) owner of said garbage can, the trajectory of our story is set in motion. Hardy has given himself a reputation for playing that guy with the calm composed facade rattling over a simmering seething pot of rage, conflict, and barely contained violence. Not only is Bob not an exception to that precedent, but he plays it is so cool and composed that, to be brutally frank, he borders on autistic. He is far too simple and oblivious to be believable in his job or in its milieu. He comes off as stupid in a wholly unbelievable way. No one can be that immune and ignorant and survive in the ‘hood, which of course leads us to question early on whether it’s all just a guise. We are given nary a whisper of what Bob is really all about. In retrospect, if one pays very close attention, there are hints, but they are few and far between and unfortunately there isn’t enough insight or mystery to urge the audience to further engage with him. There is nothing to access in Bob that makes you want more of him, and as he serves as the core of this story it pulls it down and makes plodding and abstruse. Our final deliverance of the true Bob is too little too late.
Marv, played by the late James Gandolfini, is a lot like his Tony Soprano, but rather than being at the top of his game he is a fallen man, a fettered man who has been deeply compromised. Marv is being pushed from all sides and everything he does comes from a place of desperation. That is a good thing if you want to create dramatic tension and this film needs that tension from someone because it’s not being adequately delivered by Hardy. Gandolfini had, perhaps better than any other actor I can call to mind, the ability to portray threat, fearsomeness and vulnerability simultaneously. His sheer physicality coveys a certain degree of power and yet there are visible cracks in his armor. The coldness in his eyes, the threat he can convey with merely a narrowing glance, but none of that disguises the bitterness and defeat Marv has suffered. In his own words, ‘we’re already dead, we’re just still walking.‘ Gandolfini walked that fine line and he did it masterfully. That this role is is not unique for him makes his performance, what would be his last, no less satisfying or powerful. Rapace’s Nadia is damaged but strong, a survivor, and her face is so magnetic that it’s a bonus she has intelligent dialogue.
We have seen these characters in one form or another before. Is there something that makes them particularly unique in THE DROP? No, not really. But there is a synergy between them that creates a memorable experience, albeit one in which I would have welcomed a more daring sense of direction. Director Michaël R. Roskam shows tentativeness, as though he is afraid to let his characters reveal moments of what really lies beneath. Bob, who attends Catholic mass every day, is clearly conflicted about his faith, but we’re never given enough history to sink our teeth into that thread. There is more than enough attention given to suspicious scars on Nadia’s neck and though we do ultimately get an explanation, even that is delivered in a banal fashion and falls flat. The connection and fierce protectiveness given to Bob’s new puppy is intense and suggests that there is more projection in that relationship than just the desire for a cuddly companion. There is inconsistency throughout the film and it makes it hard to navigate. The supporting cast is extremely strong. John Ortiz (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, AMERICAN GANGSTER) is an understatedly clever Detective Torres, and is gifted with the best line of the film towards its conclusion. Michael Aronov plays the deeply menacing Chovka, son of the Chechen mob boss who currently owns Marv’s Bar. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from films. it’s don’t mess with the Chechens. Chechens are portrayed as the evilest of evil, the most gruesome of violent, and their image in THE DROP is no different. The scenes between Bob, Marv, Chovka and his thugs bring fear and palpable anxiety to the story.
All that notwithstanding, because the pace of the film is erratic it cannot deliver the degree of satisfaction we want with its ultimate bloody conclusion. THE DROP tries hard not to spoon-feed you too much, but rather makes you guess at red herrings, distractions and work to bring the story into clear focus. When that moment finally arrives it’s just…a bit limp. There are scenes where the camera work is quite beautiful; incredible close-ups with faces reflecting multicolored lights of the night. The angles of James Gandolfini’s face are fascinating and abstract, as is Rapace’s. There is a ray of hope at film’s end, after all the ravages, and everyone can relax because the dog is ok. But even there, the movie ends where real relationship begins.
(3.5 / 5)
Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, Mattias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Rocco the Pit Bull
Running Time: 106 minutes
Movie Review The Drop