For all the explosive action coming to the big screen from studios looking for the next blockbuster, it’s always nice to have something more contemplative (when done well). In the case of The Drop, there’s no shortage of elements that would fit right into a Shane Black film, or even (shudder) a Michael Bay flick. Fortunately Michael Roskam avoids the easy route here, and instead creates a world of understated tension, memorable characters, and the slow burn of hidden violence.
Bob Saganowski (Tom Hardy) is a bartender at his cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini) bar in Brooklyn. Aside from the day to day responsibilities of serving drinks, shoveling snow and dealing with customers who’ve had a whiskey too many, Bob also has to monitor a large amount of illegal money on occasion. That’s because Cousin Marv’s is a mob drop bar, used to collect and distribute cash needed by local gangsters. When the bar is held up and $5,000 are stolen, Bob and Marv have to find a way to get the money back before their Russian backer finds some other way to have satisfaction.
There’s nothing revolutionary about that plot. In fact, we’ve been over-saturated with movies covering the same ground and the same generic plot points. Nice guy works a job in a rough part of town. He meets a girl with a scarred past. Ex-boyfriend isn’t happy. Guy gets roped into crime against his will. And so on and so on. If you told me that story, and it didn’t have a lead at the caliber of Hardy, I probably wouldn’t have been as keen to see it. Fortunately, Dennis Lehane keeps this film from being any sort of cookie cutter. Unless you have some sick twisted cookies baking in your oven.
What struck me the most is the lack of cheap reveals. There are tricks to the plot. The story does weave. But it doesn’t do it in an inorganic way that seems like it’s purely for the sake of fooling viewers. Instead, everything comes from the complexity of the characters in the realistic settings they’re placed in. In life, if someone talks too much, it’s hard to believe everything they say is true. And if someone doesn’t talk at all, there’s no way to really know them. A successful script is consistent with those truths.
It’s because of that distrustful nature of Lehane’s script that there’s not a moment of the story lacking in tension. If everyone has the potential to wrong you, then there’s never a moment where you should feel comfortable. The tension of the actors leads to an uncomfortable viewing experience, but not in a bad way. Rather discomfort in a way that there’s never a moment to relax, never a moment that lags, not even in the calmer moments of the film.
At this point, I’d be willing to watch Tom Hardy act in just about anything. But he’s definitely found his niche in quieter characters who are a notch uncomfortable in social situations. That’s the case here, and he plays that to perfection. Bob is tender yet imposing. Calm yet fierce. Caring yet ruthless. And Hardy plays every ounce of that spread to perfection.
As impressive as Hardy is, he hardly outshines Gandolfini, in what is his final film performance. Due to his untimely death, it’d be a shame if any critic had to say anything negative about his performance in this posthumous movie. Thankfully, there’s no one that should have anything other than rave reviews for what he brings to the screen.
The other supporting actors and characters aren’t as strong as the two leads, but honestly, how could they be? The faults in that realm are hardly worth mentioning, as the strong aspects are as strong as any I’ve seen this year. All around, an excellent cinematic experience.
Now I just have to wait for The Drop 2: Tom Hardy the dog trainer.