A superb performance from Tom Hardy and a cast of intriguing supporting characters saves this often rudderless New York based crime drama from the drop.
What About Bob? by Dave O’Flanagan
There are two categories of actors working in Hollywood right now; Tom Hardy, and the other actors working in Hollywood right now. In recent years, the Hammersmith native has conquered all and sundry by way of his chameleon-like performances. He’s projected emotion through a full face mask as archcriminal Bane, he’s made a 90-minute car journey with a Welsh building contractor riveting, and he’s successfully carried his latest film as Brooklyn-born bartender, Bob Saginowski. It’s not just Hardy doing the heavy-lifting, the accomplished cast of Rapace, Gandolfini and Schoenaerts are enjoyable and often memorable in their respective roles. Ultimately, while there is plenty to enjoy, The Drop is a relatively weak and surprisingly half-baked story from the acclaimed author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, Dennis Lehane, buoyed by an exceptional cast.
Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a simple-minded Brooklyn native working in a bar called Cousin Marv’s. The bar acts as a money-laundering drop spot for organised crime in New York City. Run by Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), the bar is robbed by two gunmen one night who make off with a drop. The Chechen criminals who own the bar demand immediate retribution and demand that the money be recovered by Marv and Bob. Meanwhile, Bob discovers a badly beaten puppy pit bull in the trash on his way home from work one evening. Here he meets the mysterious and beautiful Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Bob discovers that the puppy is owned by local thug Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) who also has a history with Nadia. Stalked by Deeds, under investigation from local Detective Torres (John Ortiz) and under constant pressure from his Chechen crime bosses, Bob’s calm and steadfast demeanour is pushed to its limits.
The often aimless and elusive narrative of Michaël R. Roskam’s latest film is frustratingly symptomatic of the short story on which it’s based. Adapting ‘Animal Rescue’ for the screen, writer Dennis Lehane fails to append his original 20-page story with sufficient bells and whistles to create even the illusion of a fully realised narrative. The original story based in Dorchester, Massachusetts, centered around characters Bob, Nadia and pit bull puppy, Rocco. In its most basic form, The Drop is a gritty love story between man and pup – and to a lesser degree man and woman – draped in serviceable crime drama. In and of itself – with Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace inhabiting their roles with consummate ease – the film would have worked as gritty love story under the original guise of ‘Animal Rescue’. While a criminal backdrop existed in the short story, it wasn’t something that necessarily required fleshing-out in the film. In attempting to build upon the criminality of the short story to produce a more fully-rounded feature-length narrative, the more interesting relationship between Bob and Nadia feels half-baked and ancillary.
This would be absolutely fine if the crime element of the film stood on its own two feet, but it doesn’t. The result of which is that in diluting Bob and Nadia’s relationship somewhat, and building Bob’s involvement with Marv and the Chechens, neither prong of the two-pronged narrative feels complete. In spite of this issue with cohesion, Bob Saginowski does feel adequately realised on screen, he feels real and relatable and pops from the 2D crime story backdrop. He’s a very intricately layered character – highlighting Lehane’s greatest asset as a writer – and this intricacy is wonderfully teased out through Hardy’s exceptional performance. Forced to reveal depths of himself that are not immediately apparent, the fluid transitions between who the audience think Bob is, and who Bob really is, are flawless.
In one of his more delicate roles, James Gandolfini’s presence as Marv elevates every scene he’s in and reminds us all of the talent we lost (the film is dedicated in his memory). In addition, Matthias Schoenaerts and Michael Aronov are fiendishly good in their respective roles as Deeds and Chechen, Chovka. John Ortiz doesn’t fare quite as well as Detective Torres, again, perhaps victim of being supplanted into a story without quite fitting in to the story so to speak – it’s a clumsy and oddly off-kilter character.
Compared with his excellent debut feature, Bullhead, Michaël R. Roskam’s film feels aimless at times, like there’s not enough story to propel any of the characters forward. The exciting and hugely satisfying conclusion is a tantalising insight into what could have been, and highlights the wealth of talent of the cast as well as Roskam’s skilled direction. With the pedigree of writing, directing and acting involved, The Drop is a disappointment, but Hardy’s winning performance as well as a delicious denouement are enough to make this an enjoyably flawed film.
The Drop is released on 14th November 2014 in the UK