Despite some good acting, ‘The Drop’ feels like it’s faking it
Dennis Lahane’s short story “Animal Rescue,” published in the 2009 anthology Boston Noir, is the source for The Drop; it’s been transplanted from Dorchester to Brooklyn, and it’s graced with some powerful acting by the late James Gandolfini.
He is in a lot of the movie, as the namesake of a neighborhood bar called Cousin Marv’s. Marv used to own the place, but he got indebted to some Chechen gangsters. The bartender is Marv’s own placid, soft-witted cousin Bob (Tom Hardy), a quiet lug in a dingy sheepskin-collared denim jacket. Bob has got a good heart and not much brain, but he has the sense to look the other way when the thugs come in to harvest their money.
The title comes from an underground banking procedure—with little or no warning, the cash deposits from the rackets comes to rest for the night in the different safes of an ever-rotating list of “drop” bars. When it’s the Cousin Marv’s bar turn to hold the bag, a couple of tipped-off plastic-masked thugs try to hit the place up. The Chechens take appropriate revenge on the thief they catch. They make sure Marv and Bob are implicated in the killing, in case they feel like talking to the cops.
After a post-Christmas shift, Bob is walking home late and finds a wounded pit bull puppy dropped in a trash can. Nadia (Noomi Rapace) hears her trash can being looked through, and emerges. She’s done some animal rescue work, so she sews the pup up. Bob now has both a reason to live, in the form of a pooch, and a new female friend. The connection between these two plots—the robbers regrouping for a second try, and the tentative friendship between Bob and Nadia—is a psycho called Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts). He has Nadia under surveillance. Deeds claims that the dog is his, and he wants Bob to pay $10,000 for it.
Director Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead ) knows the ropes: rather than constant sadism, he shows us a series of vulnerabilities probed, and escalating tension leading to a swift, conclusive act of violence. He also knows how to manipulate the audience—no one wants to see a dog get it. The Drop is not in a rut, but it’s also not a movie that breaks new ground. The international cast is slightly off—Hardy, British, is supposed to be from Central European stock or something. The high toneless voice comes from nowhere, except the movies.
There still isn’t any such a thing as a post-Marlon Brando performance, and Hardy emulates Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. Rapace is supposed to be Russian. She looks shell-shocked and scarred, the black eyes are hard as coal, and she holds your view when she licks some Dos Equis off her lips. But she doesn’t fit into the neighborhood either in accent or mannerisms. As Deeds, Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor who starred in Bullhead, is large and looming. In the role we probably needed something more of what Ray Liotta had in Something Wild—the ingratiating boy-who-never-grew-up quality of a grade-A psycho. When an actor plays this kind of role, he should be someone you want dead, but not dead quite yet. Schoenaerts is so abrasive that you want to accelerate the process.
The Drop has some dark-alley business in the sick-pink sodium-lit industrial backstreets of New York, a frozen dog park in Janary, and alleys with beat-up garage doors eaten artistically by salt corrosion. Mostly it’s framed as if for television—talking heads talking to each other. Lahane’s script makes you think of Philip Marlowe describing Hemingway as a writer who repeats things until they sound good; some of the atmosphere evaporates between the script and the mouths of the international cast.
THE DROP With Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and James Gandolfini. Written by Dennis Lehane. Directed by Michaël R. Roskam. A Chernin Entertainment and Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Rated R. 106 minutes.