‘The Drop’ Review: Tom Hardy Shines In This Old-Fashioned Crime Film
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
In 2011, director Michaël R. Roskam made a big splash with his riveting debut film, Bullhead. Like plenty of foreign directors that have made an impression in the States, he’s following up that critical darling with an American picture. Not all have succeeded in that transition, but Roskam has made a smooth passage with The Drop, an emotionally compelling and admirably old-fashioned crime film.
Adapted by Denis Lehane and based on his own short story, “Animal Rescue,” The Drop is about people grappling with the past. At the center of it all is Bob Saganowski (Tom Hardy). He’s a quiet man who keeps to himself, only interested in tending bar for his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), a former gangster who used to own the place but lost it to a local Chechen crime boss (Michael Aronov). For him, Bob and Marv handle “the drop,” which involves the safekeeping of all the mob’s money in the bar. One night before closing, the place is robbed. While Marv and the boss search for who is behind the holdup, Bob begins a close friendship with a stranger (Noomi Rapace) after the two find a beaten pit bull left in a trash can.
For the most part, The Drop is conventionally plotted. There’s nothing wrong with an old-fashioned yarn, especially when it comes with deft touches and a sturdy emotional backbone. In this case, the crime trappings serve as a conduit for a trio of personal journeys. Although this is an ensemble film, it is primarily about Bob trying to get further away from the man he used to be. Along the way there are hints at Bob’s past, implying there’s a dark side to this soft-spoken sweetheart. When we see who he really is – or who he was, depending on what one takes away from the third act – it’s a powerful reveal. We know The Drop is going to show us a violent side to the character, but how that is unveiled subverts our expectations.
Roskam and director of photography Nicolas Karakatsanis tweak the setting to dramatically heighten Bob’s arc. At first, his place of comfort, Marv’s bar, is lit warmly and packed with friendly faces. Gradually, as the stakes rise, the place turns red and the camera moves in closer and closer on Bob, becoming claustrophobic as it reminds us of the character’s troubled past. With the exception of one very heavy-handed shot, which forces a comparison between Bob and another criminal, The Drop is shot with a commanding intimacy. Bob is a man of few words, but Roskam helps us understand him with a series of telling close-ups.
Not that Hardy needs assistance in making Bob anymore empathetic. He delivers a powerfully internalized performance. Each time we get a shot of just his eyes we know exactly what’s going on in Bob’s head. Hardy is not the only actor in The Drop whose silence is as impactful as Lehane’s concise dialogue. Gandolfini, in his final performance, plays Marv’s struggle to accept his new and less fulfilling life with a sense of melancholy and humor. Any time a character questions Marv, even in the smallest of ways, the actor plays it as a huge blow to his ego. These moments with Marv are often funny, bringing a sense of levity to an otherwise serious crime story.
As for Rapace, it’s the first performance of hers to really connect since her days as Lisbeth Salander in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films. It helps that she has genuinely good material to support her, which hasn’t been the case with her most recent work. The Drop doesn’t try to force her character’s relationship with Bob into something it’s not. Their friendship is never more sentimentalized or romanticized. Rapace’s Nadia isn’t a character completely informed by the male lead. She has her own problems, life and past to run from.
Unfortunately it all finishes on a problematic note. The film builds towards a profound and gloomy ending, but then in the last minute that’s swapped for something far more hopeful, and a change of heart that drastic shouldn’t come so swiftly. If more time had been given to what this ending implies, maybe it would be more earned. Despite its conclusion, though, The Drop is a stirring drama and another reason to keep an eye on Roskam’s exciting career.
The Upside: Hardy, Gandolfini and Rapace’s performances; Lehane’s taut and rewarding script; some surprisingly funny moments; an electric confrontation in the bar; and, of course, an adorable puppy.
The Downside: A frustratingly unsubtle shot; the ending is possibly unearned and may not work with the body of the film.
On The Side: Bullhead is one of Noomi Rapace’s favorite movies.