“The Drop” Movie Review

     Screenwriter Dennis Lehane, whose credits include having written the novels that led to “Mystic River”, “Gone Baby Gone”, and “Shutter Island” being produced for the big screen, makes his feature screen writing debut with “The Drop”, a crime story set within the mean streets of Brooklyn.  Making his U.S. feature debut is Belgian director Michael Roskam, who is given the privilege of overseeing the late great James Ganolfini’s final film after his untimely death last year.  Roskam’s film is a true potboiler, choosing to let the proceedings cook at a slow burn as the tension amongst the characters increases until one of them makes the fatal move.  Build ups like this have been done in the past with Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” immediately coming to mind, but Lehane’s script populates the setting with some truly memorable characters, most notably Tom Hardy’s Bob Saginowski.

     Bob is the kind of person some people tend to underestimate.  In the film’s initial scenes, we see him working as a bartender at his cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini) bar located in an older Brooklyn neighborhood.  Perhaps Lehane wants us to know at his core, Bob has a heart, as he is seen buying rounds on the house for friends celebrating a years old death of someone from the neighborhood and the fact he has allowed the tab of  an older lady to balloon over time without ever asking for payment.  Generally speaking, Bob is a quiet individual.  He seems stuck in a routine, but he’s also content with his existence.  I was initially reminded of the early scenes with Stallone in “Rocky”, as Bob makes his way in the cold from work to home, sniffling while clothed with a jacket that is hardly adequate.  His mild mannered dialogue lends to the overall humble person that he is.  If the film would’ve revealed he was a prize fighter of some kind, I would’ve bought in to it, as this is the kind of character who has lived a life full of both mental and physical wounds that have yet to be dealt with.

     Marv is dealing with his own issues as well.  The bar he runs is one he used to own.  Years ago when he found himself under a mountain of gambling debt, Marv lost the bar to a gang of Chechen mobsters and now finds himself as a mere employee rather than someone, as he puts it, who has respect in the neighborhood.  Because of their mob ties, the bar is used as a “drop bar”, a place where money from illegal activity can be kept like a bank until it is moved to the higher ups within the organization.  This can be risky business, as both Marv and Bob find out when they are held up one night after the bar has closed by two masked gunman who clean out the register to the tune of $5000.  This puts them on the hook for the money with their employers whose patience for repayment is nonexistent, leading to the use of strong arm tactics throughout the neighborhood until the crook is found.

     Lehane’s story focuses specifically on how Bob handles both is work and personal life in a scenario where you suspect the two will eventually merge together.  One night while walking home, he finds an abused puppy in a garbage can and decides to care for it.  In the process, he meets Nadia (Noomi Rapace) whom he befriends, but who also brings with her a seemingly dark past.  Namely the dogs owner and Nadia’s ex-boyfriend, Eric Deeds (A highly effective Matthias Schoenaerts), a character who functions as the looming obstacle to nearly everything Bob, Marv, and Nadia look to accomplish throughout the story.  His mere presence in certain scenes is cringeworthy, allowing for the film to have an effective front and center villain even with the Chechen mob operating in the background.

     Tom Hardy is developing quite a range as an actor, especially when you consider his previous roles and compare them to the soft spoken Bob in this film.  While Gandolfini is solid as a supporting player, the role he leaves us with is one we’ve always known him for.  It’s as if he’s Tony Soprano without the sociopathic temper.  Hardy on the other hand is playing someone not necessarily original, but much different than his roles in say “Locke” or “The Dark Knight Rises”.  As Bob, he always seems to have a quiet confidence which leaves the audience to feel he has the situation under control even when it appears the odds are stacking against him.  The combination of Lehane’s dialogue and the superb atmospheric visuals composed by Roskam creates the kind of authenticity seen in only the very best crime films of our time.  There isn’t necessarily anything extraordinary about anyone in the film, instead each plays more like an everyman dealing with some of life’s more typical problems.  What the film lacks in the exhilaration commonly associated with this kind of story, the film more than makes up for it with a singular grit and realism combined with several notable twists within the third act.  Certainly a recipe for success that allows “The Drop” to be a worthy and exceptional film for James Gandolfini’s final bow. GRADE: B+