While The Drop marks the final chapter in the career of the late, great, James Gandolfini, make no mistake, this is Tom Hardy’s movie. Hardy plays, Bob, the quiet, friendly neighbourhood bartender at Cousin Marv’s Bar owned by you guessed it, Cousin Marv, played by Gandolfini. Viewers of the film’s trailer might be disappointed, this is not a mob movie and Gandolfini is not playing Tony Soprano. The Drop is an intimate character study that constantly questions the identity of its characters. In a film filled with surprises, it’s the lack of importance of the titular drop that catches the audience most off guard.
The narrative follows the gentle and tender, Bob, as he finds a wounded and whimpering dog in a trashcan outside a Brooklyn home. When he digs through the trash, the homeowner, Nadia, played by Noomi Rapace, accosts Bob. Upon realizing that Bob has good intentions, she invites him in and they tend to the wounded pup. Brief sidebar, I must say that with all of these immensely talented actors the best piece of casting was that dog. He’s absolutely adorable.
Just like Bob, the pit-bull pup, Rocco, appears rough around the edges. They’re supposed to be, that’s what people expect, but both Bob and Rocco are unexpectedly warm and good intentioned. As Bob and Nadia become better friends, local punk, Eric Deeds, who claims to be the dog’s former owner and Nadia’s ex-boyfriend, constantly harasses Bob, pushing him as close as he can to the edge.
This story runs congruently with Cousin Marv’s. Marv, who was once top dog in the neighbourhood, is struggling to retain a sense of pride now that he’s been relegated to life as a has-been. This leads him to plot a suicide mission to steal from the very men, a couple of angry Chechens to be exact, who now own the bar that bears his name.
The story is small in scale and minimalist, but nonetheless expertly written by first time screenwriter Dennis Lehane. You might recognize Lehane’s name as the author, not screenwriter, of recent films like Mystic River, Shutter Island, and Gone Baby Gone. Lehane atypically makes a seamless transition from page to screen. The way he writes dialogue and character is against expectation, characteristic of a much more seasoned screenwriter and he keeps the audience gripped and on their toes throughout the film.
Director Michaël R. Roskam, a first time English language director, handles the material comfortably. He has an enjoyably light touch, never force-feeding the audience, and allows his actors to do what they do best. Roskam has an outstanding cast, he knows it, the audience knows it, and thus he wisely rolls camera and stands aside. Hardy excels as the soft-spoken bartender, commanding your attention every time he’s on screen. Gandolfini is similarly stellar in his final performance. His performance is subtle and understated, it plays almost as the perfect marriage between his character in last year’s Enough Said and his defining Tony Soprano.
The film has few characters, but still manages to carve nice supporting performances from the likes of James Frecheville (Animal Kingdom) and John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook). Perhaps it was simply Frecheville’s appearance, but The Drop seemed to share a lot of similarity with David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom. But maybe it was just their shared execution of well conceived, character driven, genre fare.
Interestingly, far unlike any of the Lehane adaptations, The Drop is surprisingly funny. Most of the humour comes from the contrast of seeing the rough around the edges, Bob, caring for a small puppy. Nonetheless, it provides a nice respite from the cold, dark Brooklyn world that Roskam leads us through.
The film masterfully builds the tension slowly, allowing for it all to unravel at once, and unravel it does. Roskam also does a phenomenal job of masking character intentions to the point at which the audience truly does not know what will happen next. All of this contributes to Lehane’s asking, “who are you really?” A message that resonates throughout the entire film and sits with the audience for much longer. And oh yeah, don’t mess with Tom Hardy. Or his dog.
The Drop enters theatres November 14th.