Monday, September 15, 2014
The Drop is adapted by Dennis Lehane from his short story "Animal Rescue", and ads for the film don't miss a chance to put it right next to other recent offerings based on Lehane's work. (If you saw Mystic River and Shutter Island without knowing their origins then would you ever believe Lehane wrote both novels?) Director Michael R. Roskam puts us in a part of Brooklyn where the characters are pretty unlikely to run into the cast of Girls. The Drop (the title refers to a bar chosen as the collection point for money from other Mob bars) has atmosphere and fine performances, including the final film work of James Gandolfini, to recommend it. Yet in opening out the short story I think Lehane and Roskam have lost sight of what stories here are worth telling, and a strong effort ends up being a little less than the sum of its parts. Gandolfini plays a man called "Cousin Marv", who used to own the bar that bears his name but now serves as figurehead since the Chechen Mob took over the place. Marv's most trusted employee is bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy in a carefully coiled performance), who when he isn't working seems content to kick around his dead parents' house and walk the pit bull he finds injured in a neighbor's trash can. That trash can belongs to Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a waitress with a taste for difficult men who slowly takes a liking to Bob.
Lehane loads his script with twists and revelations, but the best thing about The Drop is its depiction of a closed criminal ecosystem. There's a cop (John Ortiz) in the film who knows what's going but can't prove it because nobody is talking. The neighborhood connections between Marv, Bob, and their associates go back years, and the thought of involving the NYPD in any of the various crimes that take place in The Drop is as laughable as Bob serving Chechen underboss (Michael Aronov) a PBR. But what is this film about? Marv is filled with self-loathing at the way he gave in to the Chechens, but because the script is so busy Marv's growing desperation can only move in fits and starts. I don't know what kind of health Gandolfini was in while shooting The Drop, but his performance is excellent. Marv is uncomfortable in his own skin, itching for action and movement but held back by both age and circumstance. Whatever physical baggage Gandolfini brought to the role is seamlessly put into what's onscreen. The role of Marv is a supporting one though, because we are really supposed to be interested in the slow revelation of the fact that Bob is quite a bit more substantial than he first appears. It is hard to believe Tom Hardy played both Bob Saginowksi and Bane, and his withholding performance eventually pays off in a climax that raises the question of why Bob's name isn't on the front of the bar. It's a kick to watch Hardy work us like an old pro, but the ending doesn't really take the movie anywhere and the Bob's relationship with Nadia exists only to make other things happen. (Rapace is vivid but wasted to a large degree.) The Drop is a good try, an overcrowded movie that circles back into a too familiar place.