Written by Dania Syed
What to Expect
Hollywood has seen no shortage of crime dramas, particularly since the likes of Coppola, Scorsese and Tarantino have emerged in recent years and inspired even more talented names to come forth. Making his Hollywood debut, Michaël R. Roskam has unquestionably reinforced his caliber as a first-rate director with a commendable follow-up to his critically acclaimed Rundskop (titled Bullhead in English) boasting a stellar cast that barely disappoints in his Brooklyn thriller, The Drop. As its name suggests – and excuse the inevitable and exaggerated poor pun – Roskam drops one so silently it will make your jaw drop (also silently!)
What’s it About
Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is an everyman bartender who lives alone in the heart of Brooklyn. He’s usually quiet, doesn’t miss Church, stays out of trouble, and minds his own business. His only family is his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), who previously owned a bar by the same name where Bob and Marv both still work.
The bar – now belonging to a Chechen mobster – is frequently used as a ‘drop’ for illegal monetary takings by organized crime professionals. But when they are unexpectedly robbed, Bob and Marv find themselves attracting unwanted attention from the mob, the authorities, and a loose-screw Eric Deeds (Matthias Shoenaerts) who menacingly stalks Bob after seeing him talking to the former’s ex, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), as all of their lives seem destined for an ugly end.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Drugs, money, guns, dismembered corpses, ultimatums – and in contemporary cinema – blood, blood and blood all make for a hit mainstream crime entertainment. On a good day, we can find some if not all of these fused with some killer writing (excuse the pun again) and shots not so gory as to sicken you – and sell the movie – but gruesome enough to make you cringe. Luckily, The Drop mostly counts for one of those good days. Sans explosions, action or dramatized suspense The Drop adopts a subdued and minimal approach in its storytelling that reminiscent of The Godfather – the approach, not the story!
Author Dennis Lehane’s adept writing has previously treated Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River to first-rate big-screen adaptations. Having previously written for TV’s The Wire, Lehane now makes his big-screen writing debut by having a crack at adapting his own short story, Animal Rescue, into The Drop.
Inquietude fills most of the film’s atmospheric narrative, and Roskam masterfully allows the ambience, coupled with Bullhead colleague Nicolas Karakatsanis’s probing cinematography and offbeat focus pulls, to instill the same cynicism in its viewers as its characters – for example, how even before a word is spoken you are already skeptical of someone being untrustworthy.
Large parts of the film see the aura of a scene dictating the viewer’s emotions, save for most transitional acts and notably the film’s climax where Raf Keunen (Bullhead) and Oscar-nominee Marco Beltrami (The Hurt Locker) together strike the right chords with their music composition. Despite clearly rising, the convolution of the plot is as subtle and calm yet robust as Bob’s character is drawn out to be. Christopher Tellefsen, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his editing on the Brad Pitt starring Moneyball, stitches the plot together with a compelling outcome for the most part, the technique with which the parallel cuts are incorporated standing out.
Having wax lyrical-ed about all that deserves credit, let’s address what keeps this from being a ten-on-ten perfect film. Around the halfway mark, the slow pace and gloominess make for a sluggish feeling, making you wonder, ‘is this even going somewhere?’ Being more dialog-based than visual-based (which isn’t a bad thing), the average viewer may find themselves floating at the surface rather than being immersed in the little verbal webs being intricately woven for the pieces to all fit together. And although this may count for nitpicking, certain shots caught the script supervisor either slacking or missing on set, as on a few – very few – counts the continuity raises questions (like why is Nadia entering with a grocery bag full of bread into a kitchen that already clearly has bread?!)
To Perform or Not to Perform
Star-studded The Drop is never let down by its performers. Boasting an accomplished cast, Tom Hardy is at the helm of it all demonstrating yet again his adroit versatility. He likens his Bob to a chameleon, keeping his head down and just blending in. He does not retaliate to any bullying, and continues to let the atrocities around him slide as he tries to understand and perhaps stabilise his own personal life. It is precisely his sympathetic, calm and indifferent performance that has you satisfied at the end if you were able to make it through the film’s slow pace.
Being the late James Gandolfini’s final performance, his Marv hits notes of resentment and bitterness at having his accomplishments (namely his bar) snatched away by the Chechen mafia. Speaking of whom, TV series The Americans’s Michael Aronov makes his film debut as the sinister Chovka with a riveting portrayal of a man who means business and will do anything for money, despite having comparatively less on-screen time than his peers.
Swedish gem Noomi Rapace, who shot to fame with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, does not fall short of meeting expectations with a sharp, quick-thinking, wary Nadia, who is struggling to keep her own life on track while she fosters an unlikely connection with Bob. Matthias Shoenaerts, who was the star of Roskam’s Bullhead, delivers a spectacular performance yet again with his harassing Eric.
My personal verdict: yes.
Not to state the obvious, but Michaël R. Roskam has promise. Previous attempts at moody crime, namely Dead Man Down and Blood Ties saw Roskam’s fellow European counterparts – Niels Arden Oplev and Guillaume Canet respectively – struggle to deliver.
If you are open to experimenting and new approaches in storytelling and writing, and can keep up with what the characters are – seemingly endlessly – speaking about rather than being shown, and are ready to patiently sit through, do give The Drop a view! Warning: This film is likely not suitable for the boom-boom-fight-fight suspense-loving viewers, a lot of whom I caught walking out.
Rating: 3.5 / 5