The Drop is an enigma. You're plunged into the remnants of a once thriving part of Brooklyn, in a bar that almost exclusively exists to service the laundering of money for a larger criminal organisation. Yet, all the people that occupy this space have something that they have to hide. "Cousin Marv's" bar is part of a syndicate of locations that filter all the illegal money moving through Brooklyn. When Marv (James Gandolfini) and his cousin Bob (Tom Hardy) get robbed, Russian mob boss and bar owner Chovka (Michael Aronov) wants answers. While Chovka sends out his hounds to sniff out those stupid enough to slight him; Bob discovers a wounded puppy that brings him into the lives of Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and local ex-con Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts).
Dennis Lehane, the author behind books like Gone Girl and Mystic River, has transitioned beautifully from novelist to screenwriter here. His adaptation (of his novel titled Animal Rescue) seems to have the patience of a novel, in that you're intent on knowing these characters and this landscape because its unassuming facade flashes a sinister core. Roskam and the players are given permission to speak the words to interact, but disclose far more in their non-verbal communication. It's like playing poker largely, reading the players to read their 'hands'.
Michaël R. Roskam crafts a beautifully cold space for this glacially paced narrative to unfurl. Brooklyn's streets feel unkempt and littered with waste that won't be revisited until the winter; the houses feel like they stand by the grace of the previous generation's intent to build things that last; and the last comforting spaces, 'Cousin Marv's' and the local church are making it harder to for people to be together. Mark (Gandolfini) himself berates his cousin Bob (Hardy) for allowing one of the local old women to come and sit at the bar without spending the money to earn the seat, and the warmth, that the bar offers. The local church; that seems so essential to Bob's life and the life of Detective Torres (John Ortiz); is in the process of being closed over the course of the film to make way for condominiums.
Tom Hardy's Bob is yet another fascinating addition to his increasingly impressive body of work. Bob does not have whip smart intellect, and is not particularly eloquent, but there's a tenderness and compassion that is firstly seen with his interactions with patrons and mostly seen with his care for his rescued puppy Rocko *fact check*. Despite the softness of his speech, his unassuming demeanour, his body seems to be constantly scrunched to hold back his impulse to smash through those that stand in his way. Rapace's Nadia is as damaged as the puppy Rocko, carrying emotional wounds instead of physical ones and benefits from the interaction and sweetness of Bob. When you start to see that she's like Rocko are in their current state largely due to Eric Deeds, it makes it all the more important for Bob not to leave her in isolation.
Matthias Schoenaerts, from Bullhead (another Roskam joint) and Rust and Bone wanders into Bob's life as the volatile Eric Deeds. Bob rescues a baby pit bull puppy that Deeds had beaten and abandoned to his death and from that moment, that intervention into his death sentence decides that Bob deserves a life of torment and discomfort. Deeds feels like every scene he's in he's holding a grenade with the pin removed, taunting Bob and Nadia with dropping it at any point. He's intimidatingly assured, and he has the petulance of childish bully. The wonderful and late James Gandolfini once again stands toe to toe with a troupe of sensational performers and dwarfs them in stature and hulking authenticity. Cousin Marv is a broken man; once a minor neighbourhood kingpin and now merely the local front for a larger a Russian crime syndicate lead by Chovka (Michael Aronov). There's such a helplessly conflicted note about the decisions that lead him to a modest life.
Ortiz's Detective Torres gets the line of the film as the curtain of The Drop draws to the close. You're left with a sensation that you've been bamboozled for the duration. The Drop is about the thin line between those who work around criminal activity and those who lead a life of crime.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Written by: Dennis Lehane
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Michael Aronov, James Frenchville, Ann Dowd