Novelist Denis Lehane is best known for providing the books that served as the basis for some of the better crime based dramatic films of the last 10 years, from Mystic River, to Gone Baby Gone, through to Scorsese’s Shutter Island. With The Drop he turns his hand to screenwriting, adapting his own short story Animal Rescue into a full-length feature. The story centres on Bob Saginowski, a taciturn bartender who ekes out a living running a Brooklyn bar known as Cousin Marv’s. This bar belongs to the Chechen mafia, who muscled out Bob’s actual cousin Marv in order to use the bar as one of the money drops that allow them to funnel money from their criminal empire. After a robbery at the bar, Bob and Cousin Marv find themselves in debt to the mob and entwined in a place investigation that threatens to dig up murky secrets from the past. Complicating matters is Bob’s budding relationship with a woman from the neighbourhood and the dog that he rescues from her trash can.
The Drop marks the late, great, James Gandolfini’s last starring role and serves as a fine, if underwhelming, testament to his acting abilities. His portrayal of cousin Marv sees him play a more sedate version of his iconic Sopranos character, never asking him to stretch his renowned acting chops. That’s not to say that it’s a bad performance, as even on auto-pilot Gandolfini is and was an engaging screen presence. The same can be said for Tom Hardy, and actor who is building an impressive resume of strong, if reserved, characters. His Bob is very much in the vein of his Forrest Bondurant from Lawless, but thankfully has a bit more to say in this. Not a lot more as Bob is very much a person who internalises any conflict or emotion. This allows Noomi Rapace’s Nadia a chance to bring out the character in him, but more than anything it is his interactions with his pitbull puppy Rocco where he truly shines. The dog is a character in and of itself and is easily the star of the show as he is easily one of the cutest animals on screen this year. Like Gandolfini and Hardy, Rapace too is treading old ground with an emotionally fragile and scarred character. She does it well but it’s nothing new. The stand out human performance comes from Matthias Shoenaerts as the loose cannon, mentally unbalanced, Eric Deeds. The character represents chaos in this structured world and is a threat every time he appears. There’s an uneasy and brilliant intensity here.
The film represents director Michaël R. Roskam’s first foray into English language filmmaking, having made a name for himself with the Academy Award nominated Bullhead in 2011. That this film comes from a novice director and from a novice screen-writer is readily apparent. To paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien The Drop feels thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. The pacing is off too adding to the underdeveloped feeling. Roskam manages to get good performances from his cast, but with that cast it would’ve been harder get bad ones. He doesn’t establish any directorial flair or style upon proceedings, with the entire film playing out like a good episode in a well-worn TV series. The cinematography and framing serve to highlight and sign-post certain plot developments, proving just as detrimental to the overall narrative and story direction as the ill-advised Empire quote in the trailer.
Overall The Drop survives on the strength of its cast. This is certainly not up there with the other Lehane adaptations, but neither is it a disservice to the authors talents. For the image of Tom Hardy holding a cute puppy alone it’s almost worth the price of admission.