The Drop Review

(3.5 STARS)

Anyone going into The Drop should know not to expect much in the way of plot surprises. It’s a thriller, yes, but it’s very straightforward, and it treads territory covered in films all too regularly. That said, there’s something very surprising about how fresh the material seems. Lowlife criminals find themselves in over their heads, and yada yada yada, but Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead) has the confidence of a director with many more than two titles on his resume. And the tone he and screenwriter Dennis Lehane develop, not to mention his unflappable control over the film’s pace, makes for a pretty spectacular 100 minutes.

Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is the film’s protagonist. He’s a very soft-spoken, somewhat odd Brooklyn bartender who’s worked for years at Cousin Marv’s, the appropriately named bar belonging to his cousin, Marv (the late James Gandolfini in his final role). But technically, Marv doesn’t own the bar for himself any longer. It’s a front for the powerful Chechen mob, and they use it regularly to launder dirty money.

Bob does his best to stay out of all that, but when he and Marv are held up one night, he’s threatened by those pulling the strings: find the money or else. This coincides with a major change in Bob’s personal life. On a walk through the neighborhood one day, he finds a dog who’s been beaten in a woman’s trash. Her name is Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and he names the dog Rocco. But a frightening and intense man, Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), who has ties to both Nadia and the dog starts stalking Bob, threatening to make things very difficult and unpleasant for him if he doesn’t pay Eric off.

One can’t help but be taken back to Michael Mann’s Heat and the first onscreen meeting of Pacino and DeNiro when Eric and Bob first get together. First, there’s Hardy. With The Drop, he officially announces himself as the best actor of his generation. He was in the mix for a number of years following outstanding turns in Bronson, Lawless, and Inception, among other films, but the way he inhabits Bob so completely—not to mention how different Bob is from some of the man’s other recent characters—is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Schoenaerts, meanwhile, is less of a known quantity, especially in America, but his work in Rust and Bone and Roskam’s Bullhead were startling indicators of the performance he gives here, as this performance is sure to be an indicator of something even better in the man’s near future.

In the hands of a lesser director, though, these are fine performances in a cliche-ridden crime film (see also: Blood Ties). Roskam introduces subplot after subplot—the dog, Nadia’s baggage, the intrepid cop, Marv’s clinging to the glory days—and they’re mostly all given their fair shake. (Credit also editor Christopher Tellefsen for making everything flow quickly and coherently.) Even more impressive, however, is Roskam’s unwillingness to speed things up for the sake of satisfying a certain segment of the film’s audience. The Drop feels very European—there’s a twist, I suppose, but no major jolts and certainly no action, like you might expect out of a major Hollywood version of a similar story.

Roskam and Lehane also impressively develop Brooklyn as a major character in the film. You can feel the complacency of these citizens in every establishing shot, and when they speak, it’s in a lot of “Don’t mess with my town/bar” platitudes that surprisingly seem appropriate. And one has to mention James Gandolfini’s final heartbreaking performance as Marv, a guy whose best days are behind him. Neither of these qualities (nor the film’s dark, impressive cinematography) makes or breaks the movie, but they’re pieces that add up to a truly outstanding whole. The Drop is one of the best movies of 2014 so far.

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