Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and the late James Gandolfini star in this New York-based neo-noir from director Michael R. Roksam. Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) is the caretaker of a drop bar (used to launder money for the mob), having been forced out of ownership by Chechen gangsters. Bob (Hardy) tends the bar and keeps himself to himself, claiming he is no longer part of this world. When Hardy finds a wounded dog in the trash outside Nadia (Rapace’s) house, a friendship is sparked and an unlikely chain of events is set in motion that will have severe consequences for all concerned.
The Drop is full of moody atmosphere, good plotting, and strong performances. It knows its location and subject matter very well, and, despite having nothing particularly original to do with it, it is effectively made and maintains its brooding ambience throughout. The pacing is smooth but languid, allowing the full development of the characters and their world in a way most films would shirk away from.
The script is by Dennis Lehane, based on his short story Animal Rescue. The – albeit heavily planted – metaphors between the men and the animals in the film are successfully conveyed, but the short story feel pervades the picture and begs the question as to why a film version was necessary when the source material seems so evident within its new iteration and the story seems to have been good enough as a vignette in the first place.
The main attraction to the film seems to be its cast, which is entirely justified. Hardy proves once again that he is one of the best actors currently around, with a performance that is gentle, measured, intelligent and yet slightly unnerving. Given his talent, the setting and the distant, charming but strange character he plays in The Drop, he is not unlike Brando in On the Waterfront. Hardy manages the accent well, and though some of his vacant groans and grumbles are reminiscent of the equally enigmatic figure he portrayed in John Hillcoat’s Lawless, he cuts an impressive figure in the broody Brooklyn landscape.
This is Gandolfini’s final role and it demonstrates where he was at his best as an actor – in his home town of New York, playing a big man who was rough and ready on the surface, but bruised and awkward underneath. To say that Gandolfini is in his comfort zone is accurate, not insulting. One of Gandolfini’s skills was that he made his characters open books; his performances projected all of their thoughts, fears, and feelings for the camera, making them entirely tangible and believable. As Cousin Marv, he shows the same finesse he managed to bring to these characters and his presence on screen is both very welcome and greatly missed.
Where the film does misuse its fine cast is, unfortunately, in the underwritten, underused part assigned to the incredible Noomi Rapace. Despite some early promise where Nadia is set up as an independent woman with guile, wit, and patience, she soon becomes a plot device, a victim, and a romantic interest. Rapace maintains a sense of dignity, and it is nice to see her in work in American cinema, but the role she has is lacking for someone of her talent. There are some nice moments between Rapace and Hardy early in the film where the two of them show just how good they are, just how natural they can be, and just how refreshing it is to see a man and a woman on screen chatting as friends rather than laying the groundwork for romance. Sadly, this is soon forgotten.
In fact, the relationship between Hardy and Rapace introduces the biggest drop in the film – the ending, which consists of a set-piece climax, then an aftermath, before a conventional coda. The first two are strongly conceived, well delivered, and appropriately cold. The second seems tacked on, unbelievable, and comparatively tepid. The final scene seems out of place and awkward, and its pretensions towards ambiguity shows more cop-out than craft. Having embraced the nihilism and foreboding of the genre, the world, and the characters so clearly, Lehane and his director let loose the reins and slow their relentless beast to a gentle trot. If the original title of Animal Rescue had remained, the ending might work a bit better, but the film would not have sold, it would have sounded like the short story it is, and it would still have been kitschy.
The Drop contains strong performances, good filmmaking, and a smokiness that engulfs the audience, which it then sadly surrenders for a misjudged attempt at poignancy. There is much to like in its construction and delivery, but there is also much to ignore and shrug at. The film is arty, affecting, and engaging, but it is not original, nor, by the end, is it the film it promises to be at the beginning, going from the fittingly funereal to the frustratingly forgettable, failing to reach its potential.