TIFF Review: The Drop

The Drop, a slow-building and gritty crime-drama, features Tom Hardy as Bob Saginowski, a Brooklyn bartender who finds himself caught between the cops and a crew of Chechen mobsters.

“The Drop” refers to a bar that, on a given night, becomes the depositing bank for large sums of dirty money. Given that the title of the film and the trailer prepare the audience for a typical robbery gone wrong crime story – it comes as a surprise that the film focuses on the slow development of the characters and their interactions.

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Hardy plays the reserved and lonely bartender at Marv’s Bar, a place run by (and named for) his Cousin Marv (the late and great James Gandolfini), but now under the ownership of Chechen mobsters.  Bob is aware of the shady and often underhanded dealings of his employers, but keeps quiet. He participates in the drop, but refuses to be categorized as one of “them”, a “tough guy”.  He resolutely states “I just tend the bar”.

Bob’s story eventually coincides with Nadia (Noomi Rapace) when he finds a beaten and bloodied pitbull puppy (Rocco) in the trash outside her home. His reluctant decision to take the puppy in, results in the beginnings of a friendship with Nadia – a much needed companionship that further complicates the story. Bob’s life is further complicated with the arrival of Nadia’s unhinged ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts).  The plot thickens when the bar is robbed. Bob and Marv deal with pressure from an enterprising detective (John Ortiz) and from the mobsters who own the bar.

Dennis Lehane’s (The Wire, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) expanded his aptly titled short story Animal Rescue, into a lean and character driven screenplay, centered around the rescue of the pitbull puppy. The genre film carries an air of unironic nostalgia, a throwback of sorts with honest dialogue and an almost classical narrative (you won’t catch a glimpse of a hipster in this version of Brooklyn) with mean streets style tough guys and average blue collar bar patrons. The Drop is Belgian director Michael R. Roskam’s first English language film (coming from outstanding critical reception of his Oscar-nominated film Bullhead). He’s mastered the gritty realism of crime in a big City.

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Bob Saginowski is a man who follows a simple routing and offers only a few words. Tom Hardy is excellent here – reserved and brooding; using minimal words to develop a layered character. His thick “Noooo Yaawwwk” accent wavers in places (he said so himself!), but it’s a solid and heavy performance that keeps us wondering if we know all there is to know about Bob, the mild-mannered bartender.

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James Gandolfini – the immaculate mobster – plays something of a loser, a resentful has-been, or more of a “never was” who seeks to capture his glory days. I really wish there was more of Cousin Marv, more time to learn his motives, his past, his mistakes and his current situation. Gandolfini is great as Cousin Marv; oozing paranoia and bruised ego from scene to scene – much more brash and ambitious than Bob – seemingly trapped in his current situation. As good as Gandolfini is in his final role, I’d prefer to remember him by his amazing work in last year’s Enough Said.

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The weakest character and plot point in the entire film is Nadia, played by the usually commanding Noomi Rapace. The character and storyline seems a bit superfluous and bland in the Brooklyn-set drama. While she conveniently serves as a dramatic foil, bringing both the puppy (which Tom Hardy adopted in real life…swoon ladies, swoon) and Eric Deeds into an already complicated story, there’s no real chemistry between the two leads, resulting in often awkward and dull interactions. Matthias Schoenaerts, on the other hand, is all intensity and menace as local thug Eric Deeds. Each scene he’s in, whether he’s engaged in simple conversation or threatening to end someone’s life, is filled with tension, as if anything could happen.

When I say this film is “slow-building”, it doesn’t necessarily mean boring.  The dialogue hints at just enough backstory for each character to learn their motivations, however, we’re left wanting in some cases. There seems to be an innuendo or back story hidden in every turn of phrase. The threat of violence simmers beneath every uttered syllable – yet the sporadically placed bursts of violence catch the audience by surprise. The narrative rewards patience from the audience with an outstanding final act and conclusion.

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The film is a solid character driven drama that harkens to 70’s style tough guys and mean streets. Drop by your local theatre and catch The Drop.

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