You know it’s going to happen; you’re just not sure when. You can sense the story building up to it. So does the performance, measured out in ever increasing indications of suppressed violence. Still, he’s a decent guy. Soft spoken. Kind to animals. Not afraid to be loyal when necessary, while always happy to point out potential pitfalls in other’s knee-jerk reactions and schemes.
And there’s the inferences, the hints at secrets from the past being concealed and realities no longer discussed. This is Bob Saginowski, bartender at a local Brooklyn dive known as Cousin Marv’s. He is played by Tom Hardy, who is the only reason to give the otherwise ordinary crime thriller The Drop a look. The rest of the movie hopes to use the reputation of its writer to lure in the audience, but it won’t work.
You see, Dennis Lehane, whose books have become blockbusters such as Mystic River, Shutter Island, and Gone Baby Gone, has penned the script here, and while based on his own material, it actually feels borrowed from a dozen better crime dramas. Bob works for Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role), though the burly mobster wannabe no longer owns the club; it has fallen into the hands of the Chechens, who occasionally use it as a drop spot for illegal earnings. One night, the place is robbed by two street toughs in hoodies and masks. When he discovers this, the villainous Chovka (Michael Aronov) makes it very clear to Bob and Marv—get the money back, or die.
In the meantime, our brooding bachelor has become involved with a woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace). He found a wounded pitbull puppy in her garbage cans, and she is helping him learn the ropes of dog ownership. Unfortunately, she has a former boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) whose notorious in the neighborhood, the least of which for spending a few months in the local loony bin. Soon, he starts threatening Bob and his canine companion. Then Chovka makes Marv’s the drop site for one of the biggest monetary nights of the year: the Super Bowl. With cops interested in the previous robbery and Nadia’s ex acting guilty, it looks like a major confrontation is about to take place.
Within minutes of being invested in this story, The Drop disintegrates. We still have Hardy’s performance to work with, but for the most part, Lehane delivers a mechanical mafia movie where everything is telegraphed and retold a dozen times. For example, Marv is mad. He’s lost his bar. He’s lost his swagger. More importantly, he’s lost the respect of the neighborhood. So guess who MIGHT be behind the recent robberies at the bar. Similarly, Matthias Schoenaerts may be a real loose cannon, but he doesn’t really do much except intimidate. So when it’s revealed that he might not be the cold blooded killer his reputation infers, we are not all that surprised.
In fact, almost every element of this movie is so recognizable that is seems to fade from memory almost immediately after being experienced. The fate of the poor battered puppy is more important to us than Marv’s motives, Nadia’s personal problems, or the greasy haired threat posed by Chovka. Only Bob manages to stay with us and that’s because his character is so ill-defined and yet enigmatic we can’t wait until Lehane and director Michael R. Roskam stop screwing around and get to the reveal.
When they do, it’s electrifying, Hardy slowly amplifying his speech until we fully understand what this man is capable of; it’s a brilliant moment. It’s also, however, way too little much too late. In between, we have to hear conversations about dying fathers in nursing homes, familial desires to be on The Amazing Race, and more than a few snubs aimed at the Church.
Hardy hammers it, however. He’s terrific, turning his inherent machismo into something mild and meek. Granted, it’s a front, but a very affective one. There are moments of elongated silence here, Bob sitting in his modest home, his unfashionable furnishings (including plastic on the couch) indicating someone stuck in a specific time.
We see images of adults, cards commemorating funerals and other memorials. We also are constantly drawn to the basement, and an oil tank that may or may not be important. Roskam, who made a splash with the foreign film Bullhead, lingers over such minor aspects of Bob’s life, believing (rightfully so) that we will be intrigued enough to stick with this story, just to see if everything comes together in the end.
It kind of does, and it kind of doesn’t. That’s why The Drop ultimately fails. Nothing else here is remotely as interesting as Hardy and what his character is hiding. Gandolfini is really wasted, while Rapace does little except whimper. About the only person who comes close to our lead is Schoenaerts, and his showboating wears out its welcome rather quickly.
And the plotting is rather pathetic as well. We get the idea of a drop bar, a robbery, and then the decision to use Marv’s again for the Super Bowl. Hmmm… wonder what’s going to happen now? And since Bob is more or less clueless about what goes on behind the scenes (or at the least, he acts like he is) all eyes converge on the only other individual who could possibly be in on the scheme. Not the most intricate narrative.
The end result is a plausible piffle, a movie that might have worked had Lehane more to say than criminals committing crimes against each other. Hardy’s Bob Saginowski could actually be part of a more focused character study, throwing most if not all of the bar brouhaha away, and we’d still be intrigued to see where he and his hushed personality is heading. Instead, the standard mafia B.S. is bandied about, the better to pigeonhole this production as something the average moviegoer would get. It’s quite a long buildup before we get to know the realities of Bob Saginowski’s past. Once delivered, however, it’s too little, way too late, for The Drop.