The Drop (2014) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A quiet man behind the bar

thedrop02 The hero of “The Drop” is a quiet, reticent guy who does not draw others’ attention a lot as silently going through his mundane daily life. He is usually nice and generous to his customers, and he looks like a guy we may come to like as spending some time with him, but then we notice more of his curiously reserved attitude, which gradually intrigues us as he faces a couple of troubles he must deal with.

Through the opening narration, Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) tells us about how the illegal transaction of local mobsters’ money is done within his working-class neighbourhood in New York. Local mobsters randomly select one of the bars in the neighborhood whenever they need to gather the income from their criminal operations while avoiding the police, and there is always a secret safe in these bars in which bar owners keep a bunch of cash envelopes delivered to them one by one until someone comes to get all of them later.

With his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), Bob has managed Marv’s bar which is virtually owned by Chechen mobsters. Although there was a time when Marv and Bob had successful days with their small-time criminal career, they were eventually pushed by new forces coming into their neighborhood, and now they have to be content with being allowed to run their bar as occasionally keeping the money for Chechen mobsters if their bar happens to be selected as ‘the drop’.

thedrop01 When two armed guys wearing masks break into the bar around the end of their working hour during one night, Marv and Bob have no choice but to give not only their money but also the money delivered during that day, and both of them see a big problem to come after that robbery. Chechen mobsters are not going to let the robbers get away with stealing their money, and Marv and Bob are well aware of that they can be killed or harmed by these gangs even if they prove to be innocent in the end. There is a short but chilling moment when Chovka (Michael Aronov) and his Chenchen gangs drop by their bar, and Chovka gives them a clear (and bloody) warning on what can possibly happen if someone dares to mess with his organization.

In case of Detective Torres (John Ortiz), he quickly detects the connection between Marv’s bar and Chechen mobsters, but he is wise enough not to waste his time on Marv or Bob although he becomes a little more curious about Bob as a fellow parishioner who have seen Bob at a local Catholic church. We frequently see Bob attending the church services, but his face always looks distant, and he has never participated in communions for some reason. He lives alone in his house, and he does not have anyone to talk with besides Marv while seeming to be all right with his solitude which has probably been continued for years.

But then Bob happens to meet a woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace) through one small incident. During one evening, he discovers an injured puppy dog within a trash can in the front yard of Nadia’s house, and, as taking care of that dog with some help from Nadia, Bob becomes close to this woman who once had a rough time due to drug addiction but has tried hard to rebuild her life as working as a waitress.

thedrop03 With Nadia and the dog which is named Rocco by him, Bob’s lonely life becomes a little brighter than before, but there is still a problem with Cheche mobsters, and then he also encounters Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), Nadia’s aggressive ex-boyfriend who is also Rocco’s original owner. He demands Bob money in exchange for his dog, and, considering his notoriety around the neighbourhood, he surely looks like someone who will not go away until he gets what he wants.

The movie is directed by Michaël R. Roskam, a Belgian filmmaker who previously made a debut with Oscar-nominated film “Bullhead” (2011). While it is shaky as a crime drama at times, that film works as a dark, compelling character study, and it was also a career breakthrough for both Roskam and his lead actor Schoenaerts, who was utterly unforgettable as its fascinating hero who is driven to bulk up his body by any means necessary as his own miserable way of running away from an old wound in the past.

With the screenplay by Dennis Lehane, who adapted his short story “Animal Rescue” (He later expanded it to the novel which was published around the time when the movie was released in last year), Roskam made a smooth transition to English-language film. Its narrative is slow, but the movie steadily holds our interest under his leisurely but assured direction, and Roskam patiently builds low-key tension below the screen as we gather that the story is being moved slowly toward some inevitable point waiting for its characters.

thedrop04 Roskam also has a group of talented actors who can suggest more than what is said on the screen through their nuanced performances. While holding himself well in a very understated mode throughout the movie, Tom Hardy is engaging to watch even when his character does not reveal a lot about himself, and he is supported well by the other good performers who ably tune their performances to the somber atmosphere surrounding their characters. James Gandolfini, who died in 2013 not long after finishing his work in this film, has a sad scene when Marv expresses his frustration with life during his private conversation with Bob, and Noomi Rapace provides small warm spots in the film as her character and Hardy’s character tentatively come closer to each other. The movie also pays attentions to some of its minor supporting characters, and a brief scene between Gandolfini and Ann Dowd, who plays Marv’s sister, tells many things about their close relationship which makes them look more like husband and wife rather than siblings.

While it requires some patience due its slow pace, “The Drop” is a solid crime film worthwhile to watch for good performances and competent direction. You can easily guess where it is going even before it begins to prepare itself for the finale, but it is interesting to watch how it progresses to that point through characters and several nice subtle touches to reflect on later, and you will probably appreciate a small glimmer of hope at the end of this melancholic character drama.

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