Movie Review: The Drop (2014)



by Alan F. Zundel

“The Drop” is a taut suspense drama that builds to a surprising and effective climax. Based on a short story by screenwriter Dennis Lehane, it has a short story’s efficient development and sharp sense of place and character, looping in on itself in a way that joins beginning to end in a compact whole.

Tom Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a bartender in a small Brooklyn bar. Bob moves slowly and has a blank expression that at first suggests he may be brain damaged. He’s a soft touch for the patrons of the bar, much to the displeasure of his cousin, the eponymous manager and former owner of “Cousin’s Marv’s.”

James Gandolfini fits the role of Marv like a tailor-made suit, although Marv has no such item in his wardrobe. Gruff and constantly in need of money, Marv has given up ownership of the bar to a local Chechen gang that uses his bar as one of many “drops” in the city for dirty money. Bob knows what is going on but tries to distance himself with the claim, “I just tend bar.”

One evening Bob discovers a bloodied puppy abandoned in a garbage can in the front yard of a house. When he enters the yard he is confronted by Nadia (Noomi Rapace), the wary resident of the house, who reluctantly lets him bring the dog in so she can tend to its wounds. Bob and Nadia enter a cautious partnership to care for the dog, which begins to draw Bob out of his reserve.

Shortly thereafter the bar is robbed by two masked men, and the Chechen gang leader holds Marv and Bob responsible for replacing their money. If this wasn’t enough of a problem, a shady character shows up at Bob’s house and claims ownership of the dog. The man, Eric Deeds (Matthias Shoenaerts), is later revealed to be Nadia’s ex-boyfriend and a reputed murderer.

Interlocking tensions tighten as a robber’s amputated hand is delivered to the bar in a bag of bloody money, a detective becomes nosey about the goings-on, Bob begins to suspect Marv of plotting to double-cross the gangsters, and Eric demands to be paid $10,000 for his dog.

It all comes to a head on Super-Bowl Sunday, when a million dollars in bet money is expected to be dropped at the bar. Marv calls in sick, leaving Bob alone to deal with Eric, who has forced Nadia to accompany him to the bar and lingers to closing time with obvious nefarious intent. The final confrontation forces Bob to take action to save Nadia, an action which reveals his true character and what he has been hiding.

“The Drop” is a well-crafted movie, well-written, directed and acted. Lehane’s screenplay skillfully piques our curiosity and sympathy for Bob before enmeshing him more and more tightly in a net of dangerous dilemmas. Tom Hardy plays the character just right, offering enough of Bob’s inner life to convince us more is going on under the surface, but not so much that we can guess what it is until he is ready to show it.

James Gandolfini (in his last movie before his death) virtually embodies the role of Marv, giving the movie an anchor of authenticity as real as the location shooting. Noomi Rapace, whom I have only previously seen as Lisbeth Slander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo,” is a revelation here, as vulnerable and feminine as the latter character was martial and butch. Matthias Shoenaerts’ Eric is a convincingly repulsive low-life, and the supporting players are all right on the money as well.

Kudos to Michaël R. Roskam for knowing how to focus on story and character rather than calling attention to himself as director. This is not an action-packed thriller, rather it derives its suspense from the foreboding that something bad is going to happen rather than fights, chases and the usual crime movie clichés.

In fact, it incongruously reminded me of the classic 1955 film “Marty,” in which two lonely people carry on a tentative romance within the confines of a New York working class neighborhood (in “Marty,” the Bronx). I say incongruous because “Marty” was not a suspense movie, and certainly did not have the brief sequences of gore and violence found in “The Drop.”

The reliance on violence or the suggestion of violence as a plot element in entertainment is not new to our time, but its graphic presentation is a fairly recent development, probably tracing back to “Bonnie and Clyde” in 1967. If I have one complaint about “The Drop,” it is the absurd one that it is a product of our time.

That we’ve grown accustomed to graphic violence in the movies is, to me, a sad thing. It is to the credit of the filmmakers, though, that in “The Drop” the violence is kept to a minimum and embedded within the context of a man’s grappling with his conscience.

I liked the way they handled that, and I liked this movie.

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