There’s a lot to like about The Drop, the new crime drama from director Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead), written by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), and starring James Gandolfini, Tom Hardy, and Noomi Rapace.
The film tells the story of a bartender named Bob (Hardy) working at a dive in Brooklyn. The place is managed by the towering presence of Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) (both a nickname and Bob’s real cousin), who founded it and ran it for many years until the local Chechen crime syndicate bought the joint and began using it as one of many in a great chain of locations where money drop-offs and pick-ups take place. One night, just after closing, a pair of masked bandits come charging in, making off with the mob’s money. Of course, it’s now up to Bob and Cousin Marv to find the culprits and get the money back. Or else.
While that is the set-up of the film’s plot, the jumping off point, it quickly becomes clear that the movie isn’t really about an unfortunately-timed robbery, seemingly-futile retrieval efforts, or even the cold terror of the gangsters who control Brooklyn’s underworld; The Drop is a film about people, their relationships, and their interactions. It is about reconciling the personal horrors of the past with the second chances at renewal that life throws our way. And on this level, The Drop succeeds.
Every performance in the movie is finely-tuned and hits all the right human notes (although some secondary characters seemed two-dimensional, especially when compared with the sharp portraits written of the primary players, but the actors still manage to bring layered depth to their roles). James Gandolfini, in his last film role, gives what is perhaps the perfect performance to be remembered by: reminiscent of his past work without carbon-copying it, presenting a full life onscreen of a man who is at once instantly likeable yet subtly treacherous. He was truly one of the best performers around, and his presence will be sorely missed by both those in the film community and the audiences who have taken the journeys of his characters with him.
Tom Hardy’s performance as Bob is also a thing of wonder. He creates a character who is garrulously shy and charming, reaffirming his status as one of the great performers of the day who can take whatever is thrown at him and do it well. That being said, it is impossible to mention Mr. Hardy without also brining up Noomi Rapace as Nadia. She plays a character with whom Bob connects over a dog he found, beaten (not by her) and cold, in her trashcan (also not her doing). The dog is the conduit through which they learn more about each other and have their hesitations about their humanity softened.
While Ms. Rapace’s performance is just as superb as the rest on its own terms, what really stands out (and makes the movie) are the scenes between her and Hardy. They just ring so true as a couple strangers, both seeking redemption and renewal, getting to know each other. It all seems like it could really be happening before our eyes, with the way they talk around each other, and the way Bob stumbles over and loops back around on his words before finding the right way to say things. Really, while those scenes stuck out, every interaction is similarly excellent and naturalistic.
The characters all seem so comfortable with each other, telling us so much of life before the film just in the way they are with each other. It’s a rare thing to see a film that seems like the continuation of people’s lives that necessarily exist and have existed for as long as you have; it is also a wonderful thing to experience, the collaboration between director and actors that creates such a convincing portrayal of humanity. Unfortunately, not all aspects of the film work quite as well.
Remember the stuff about it not really being about the whole “get the money” thing? That whole thread quickly fades to the background, and Bob gets dragged into a mess with Nadia’s psychotic ex-boyfriend and the dog while another plot thread concerning Cousin Marv and the drop money starts to play out and there’s also this policeman investigating a disappearance that happened years ago because something doesn’t seem right about it and Bob and Nadia are continuing to grow through their connection with this dog and you get the idea. The bulk of information and activity isn’t necessarily a bad thing (especially when it’s so well-written), but at times there seemed to be one too many things going on at any given time, one too many characters to keep track of when not every beat of the story seemed to tie into the narrative as a whole. Sometimes the story felt more like a loose occurrence of events rather than a tight inevitability, which can be done effectively, but in this case just felt a tad unfocused.
Regardless of the story hiccups, which are relatively minor in the grand scheme of the what the film manages to do, The Drop is always a pleasure to watch, which has everything to do with the quality of the dialogue, the effortless grace of the cast, and the nice clip at which Roskam keeps things running. The film is most certainly recommended viewing, as the performances and the natural comfortability the filmmakers bring to the lives of these characters should not be missed.
The film opens in select theaters on Friday, September 12, 2014.