I’m impressed by films that manage to immerse me through slow, careful pacing that allow scenes to build instead of dictating to me what I should feel. The Drop is one of those films. There’s always some sort of looming threat throughout in this money laundering crime drama. It’s made more impactful by the lead characters, given expert performances by Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini in his final feature role. Let’s jump right in.
The film begins at a local Brooklyn bar called Cousin Marv’s. The bartender, Bob Saginowski, played by Tom Hardy, serves some drinks on the house while the bar patrons toast to the ten year anniversary of the death of Richie Whelan. In the back sits Marv, played by James Gandolfini, who is none too pleased that Bob serves drinks on the house.
We’re told through narration that the bar operates as a “drop” bar where criminals launder dirty money. The money changes hands all night long until it ends up at the drop-off. The drop-off site is essentially a safe for the entire city, and no one ever knows when their bar will be chosen.
After attending mass, Bob heads home, but he hears a noise from a trash can outside of someone’s home. Inside is a whimpering and bloodied pit bull. The owner, Nadia, played by Noomi Rapace, comes out to see who is going through her trash. Seeing that the pit bull is injured, Nadia helps stitch it up. Now comes the question of what to do with the dog. If the dog is taken to the local shelter, it will be put down if the owner doesn’t come. Bob is willing to take care of the dog for a few days.
When closing time arrives, two men rush in and rob Bob and Marty blind, despite Marty’s warning about whose money they’re taking. All the while, Bob notices that one of the gunmen has a broken watch.
During the subsequent investigation, Detective Torres, played by John Ortiz, asks if the two noticed any key details about the robbers. This prompts Bob to note the broken watch, and the mere mention of this angers Marv. Torres handles the case mostly on his own, as the other officers have no interest in going after the Russians.
Bob lets Nadia watch the dog, who he names Rocco, in addition to taking him pet shopping, as he has no idea what he’s doing. Owning a pet isn’t easy or cheap, you know.
Later on, Bob shoves snow while Marv…supervises. The Chechen mob shows up and the man in charge, Chovka, played by Michael Aronov, demands to know not just about the stolen money, but why the cops know about the broken watch. Just to prove they mean business, the Chechens open the back of their van and reveal a man with a large spike going through his feet. Nasty business. We learn that the Chechens are the real owners of the bar.
At Marv’s home, his sister, Dottie, played by Ann Dowd, tells him that a collection agency is calling because they need to pay for their father’s life support. She thinks it’s time to pull the plug, but Marv is convinced that the old man still has some life in him.
He then leaves and speaks with one of the robbers to let him know that his brother needs to get a new watch. The plot? She does ever thicken.
After an unexpected run-in with a strange man at the park, Bob and Rocco return home, but he gets a visit from the same man from the park, Eric Deeds, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. Why’s he just randomly there? Why, to get out of the cold, of course. Not at all creepy. Deeds asks Bob why he’s keeping this dog, which he claims to be his because of a chip inside of the dog. As collateral for not having his dog anymore, Deeds takes Bob’s umbrella since it’s about to rain. Hey, you don’t want to get wet, after all.
Back at the bar, Marv is a bit on edge. He tells Bob that a man stopped him and asked for directions to the hospital, but he can’t put his finger on what was so suspicious about him. When Bob tells him about his own encounter, Marv tells him that Eric Deeds is a local criminal who says that he killed Richie Whelan. As the two talk, Bob finds a bag stuck to the gate. Marv refuses to look inside, saying he doesn’t need to see what’s in it. He soon does when Bob pulls out an arm with a broken watch and the stolen $5000 returned.
Bob disposes of the arm while Marv washes the money. The Chechens soon show up at the bar and Marv returns the money. So all is well, right? Nope. The Chechens tell Bob and Marv that the bar will be the drop bar during Super Bowl night.
Well, they were almost out of the woods.
The Drop isn’t what I’d call a fast paced film at all, and I believe that works in the movie’s favor. There’s a lot to take in from scene to scene and Michael Roskam’s direction gives the film a very film noir feel and vibe. I’m impressed with the film’s pacing as a whole. Nothing ever moves too quickly and each scene is used to add a layer to the characters and flesh them out. And it all leads to a very satisfying payoff that you have to see.
As other crime dramas have done in the past, the movie examines the dangers of getting revenge, but also getting too deep into the game. For example, we learn that Marv used to be feared and respected in the community, but that all went away when he lost the bar to the Chechens. He doesn’t like Bob serving drinks on the house because that’s money lost. Bob, however, is in the game, but he’s an observer and keeps his mouth shut when he needs to, preferring to watch events play out and wait to make his move.
A lot of the tension and violence comes through natural conversation, particularly Bob during one moment near the ending. For example, Eric warns Bob about what he’ll do to the dog and Nadia if Bob doesn’t agree to his deal. And the violence that’s shown on screen is intensified because we’ve heard about what these people are capable of. And yet, the more tense moments, I found, were the result of unexpected encounters. When Eric just breezes into Bob’s home, I expected one of them to die, and yet, their conversation was without blow, despite the tension. It’s an example not just of the strong performances, but Dennis LeHane’s script as well. Nothing ever felt too drawn out and there’s no bombastic score that pulled me out of the film. Every single person that Bob and Marv encounter could be a potential looming threat.
When it comes to performances, what is there to say about the late James Gandolfini that hasn’t been said? Between this and Enough Said, he turned in some great final performances and it is unfortunate we won’t get to see him play roles like this again. You can read the weariness and exhaustion on his face, but he still carries so much presence. Sure, Marv is past his prime, but that doesn’t mean he can’t hold his own. He longs for control because he no longer has it, but will do anything to maintain some form of stability.
And it’s not just in the world of crime, either. He has home issues as well, as seen when he and his sister grapple over whether to keep their father on life support. Marv’s life isn’t all terrible, as he’s given quite a number of funny lines that Gandolfini delivers naturally, never coming off as awkward, such as when he and Bob debate over the correct pronunciation over Chechens. What’s better is that, like everyone else, Marv isn’t as honest and upfront as we would believe. He’s been a part of the game before and brings the experience and wisdom that Bob supposedly lacks. The little things he does, like not wanting to look in the bag or admonishing Bob for telling the cops about the broken watch- these are all signs that he wants to keep matters as tight as possible and not push anyone’s buttons.
But the real star here is absolutely Tom Hardy. The man’s facial expressions alone sell his role, but for a guy who tries to keep to himself and stay out of trouble, Bob is smarter than we initially give him credit for. Hardy has this quiet intensity to his performance throughout the film. The way he observes others around him, never tries to get too involved in a situation and rarely shows anger show how methodical he actually is.
In a way, Bob is wearing a mask. He lets his guard down around people like Nadia because of their connection with the dog, as well as Detective Torres because they have a link through their faith. At the same time, he doesn’t completely open up because he has his own secrets to guard. He says what’s necessary and moves on, never trying to provoke a situation unless he’s been pushed to. And as Marv explains, pushing Bob to a breaking point is not a good idea. But when the time comes, you see just how great of a job Tom Hardy did with this role. At first glance, you’d think Bob just follows orders while Marv is the brains of the operation. However, the more we learn about Bob, the more we realize that he’s more cunning than one would assume. He knows how to take orders, but he can hold his own, when necessary.
The plot to The Drop isn’t anything mind-blowing or revolutionary. It doesn’t change the scope of crime dramas, but it’s a well-made, well-scripted and directed drama. It’s a film that takes time with its storytelling and knows how to pace itself. To me, the film is like a slow fuse inching its way toward several sticks of dynamite. Sure, it may take some time to get there and you don’t know what could happen along the way, but you stick around for the fireworks regardless. What makes this movie are the incredible performances from James Gandolfini and especially Tom Hardy, who have real weight to their roles. In this world, you never know whose going to betray you, be right around that corner or stab you in the back. Stay alert.
Oh, and don’t screw with Tom Hardy.