Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini
Running time: 106 minutes
Rated: R for some strong violence and pervasive language
Bottomline: A gripping crime drama
The talk these days among anyone who has an interest in the movie industry is how badly the North American box office has fallen off.
The post-Labor Day weekend has always been notoriously slow, but this past weekend business sank as low as it has been since either 1998 or 1988, depending on how you measure it. The diagnoses and proposed cures for what ails Hollywood are sure to follow.
Meanwhile, the answer has always been to offer the audience engaging storytelling, compelling characters and distinctly cinematic content. That’s exactly what we get with this week’s “The Drop.”
It’s a low-key, carefully plotted modern noir with a scope perfectly suited for theatrical viewing. This story wouldn’t work if spun out into the length of a television season, but it makes for an enthralling 106 minutes.
The themes and tone are typical of movies based on the writing of Dennis Lahane (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Shutter Island”), who for the first time adapts his own work, a short story called “Animal Rescue.” In fact, the promotional materials for “The Drop” highlight the Lahane brand, even though it’s equally important the movie was helmed by Belgian director Michaël Roskam and stars a mostly European cast.
Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) works at a neighborhood bar in Brooklyn owned by his cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini). The concept of the film is the organized criminal underworld, which seems to be ruled entirely by Chechens, randomly chooses one bar each night to serve as the drop point where all illegal gambling proceeds are collected.
This places Bob and Marv at the mercy of some very dangerous people, especially when the bar is robbed of $5,000 of the Chechens’ money.
Meanwhile, Bob gets drawn into a more personal but no less threatening drama when he discovers a puppy has been beaten and thrown into a trash can.
It is one of the oldest devices in the history of devices to show the protagonist helping a harmless, cute animal early in the story. It’s an efficient but cliché means of revealing the big heart underneath his rough exterior.
Here, though, the dog becomes integral to the story in meaningful ways. It is first a means of bringing Nadia (Noomi Rapace) into Bob’s life, since it is in her trash cans that Bob finds the dog. But soon the dog’s former owner, a sociopath named Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), returns to claim it.
Bob is suddenly caught in two very dangerous webs: the Chechen underworld and Eric’s unhinged will to inflict pain.
“The Drop” is set in contemporary Brooklyn, but the cast and Roskam’s sensibility give it a timeless, hard-to-locate feel. Hardy is English, Rapace is Swedish and Schoenaerts is Belgian. While all three do mostly well with the Brooklyn accent, there is the unmistakable trace of European ancestry.
The casting, along with the film noir conventions of voice-over narration, an average Joe protagonist, a sociopathic bad guy and a love interest who might be an abused woman or a femme fatale, all add up to a movie that could be set in any urban neighborhood in America or Europe at any time in the past century.
Gandolfini’s presence is, of course, bittersweet since it is his final movie role. He is as good as ever here, and it’s clear he had decades of good work left in him.
“The Drop” is a taut, slow burn of a movie that’s smarter than it might first appear. The pace is a bit plodding at times, but that only makes the impact of its more suspenseful scenes that much greater.
While the movie reminds us we lost Gandolfini far too soon, it’s exciting to ponder what Hollywood newcomer Roskam will do in the future.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.