Title: The Drop
Director: Michael R Roskam
Major Players: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts
Out Of Five: 3.5
The queue for the press screening of The Drop was the longest I’d seen at this year’s London Film Festival – partly because the organisers had inexplicably given it one of the smallest screening rooms and partly because there was a lot of interest in it. After all, it was James Gandolfini’s last film.
And there was more to whet the appetite of us hacks. Tom Hardy for one. Director Michael R Roskam, who burst onto the screen three years ago with Bullhead – which also starred one of the cast of The Drop, Matthias Schoenaerts. And Dennis Lehane, who penned Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Quite a pedigree.
It’s set in Brooklyn’s criminal underworld, specifically in Cousin Marv’s Bar, which is used as a drop bar to circulate dirty money in secret. Eight years after Eastern European gangsters have taken over the bar, Marv (Gandolfini) is still struggling with not being the main man. His cousin Bob (Hardy) keeps the bar going – barman, manager, chief cook and bottle washer – and the film follows his story as he finds himself at the centre of a bungled robbery and is then caught up in the investigation.
And, yes, as you can see in the still, there’s also a four legged member of the cast. He’s Rocco, who’s the catalyst for the half of the story involving the solitary, taciturn Bob and Nadia (Noomi Rapace). The puppy is abandoned in her dustbin. From his performance, Hardy clearly isn’t at all bothered by the convention of not acting with animals and holds his own happily with the little pit bull. But Rocco isn’t just there as a plot device: he’s also the main clue to the other side of Bob. The mutt looks cute and is happily docile when treated well, but everybody knows that when a dog’s either mis-treated or has the wrong buttons pushed, it can be a very different matter.
We know from the opening monologue that Bob has a secret and the fact that he’s a regular church goer, but never takes communion, is another pointer to something deeper and darker. As is Marv warning local hard man Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) that it’s not a good idea to upset his cousin. Local cop, Torres (John Ortiz), who’s assigned to investigate the bungled robbery, says to the quiet man “They never see you coming, do they, Bob?” He’s not wrong!
So, despite the dog and the robbery, The Drop is very much Bob’s story. And it’s also an actors’ piece, with Hardy and Gandolfini both on fine form. There are shades of Brando’s Terry Malloy in Hardy’s Bob – not that he coulda been a contender, but both men are easy to underestimate and have a strong sense of right and wrong, even if it is somewhat skewed. And Matthias Schoenaerts is creepily effective at making threats and general nastiness sound completely rational and normal.
The film’s brooding atmosphere is enhanced by some nifty camerawork, especially the shots filmed underneath the bar when the dodgy money is being deposited. What lets it down is the story. All of Lehane’s successes have been based on novels: this was originally a short story and it shows, even if the author himself also wrote the screenplay. It doesn’t really have enough to make a full length movie, which means that the film ends up over-relying on its cast to disguise its shortcomings. And it nearly works. But Hardy and Gandolfini are so good that they make it even more obvious.
Ultimately, The Drop is still absorbing and, in acting terms, a worthy tribute to Gandolfini. And, having seen Locke earlier this year, I have to confess that Hardy is rapidly growing on me as an actor with real screen presence and power. It’s just a shame that the film itself isn’t all that it could’ve been.
The Drop was screened at the London Film Festival on 11, 12 and 13 October and goes on general release around the UK on Friday, 14 November.