Tuesday 25 December 2018

Movie Review: The Drop (2014)

A crime drama, The Drop is intense, character-rich and gracefully slow-burning.

Bob (Tom Hardy) is the quiet bartender at the Brooklyn bar owned by his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini). The bar is used as the occasional illegal cash drop point for pickup by local mobsters. Years prior Marv ran his own racket, but was outmuscled by a Chechen gang and now operates the bar on their behalf while quietly seething. The joint is also known as the last place Richie Whelan was spotted before he disappeared forever, ten years ago.

Bob rescues an abused dog from the front yard of the house where Nadia (Noomi Rapace) lives. He adopts the animal and names it Rocco, and she helps him look after it. But Bob's subdued life starts to unravel when the bar is held up, infuriating the Chechens and attracting the attention of Detective Torres (John Ortiz). Then local thug Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) shows up, claiming Rocco is his dog, and also hinting he murdered Richie.

Directed by Michaƫl R. Roskam and written by Dennis Lehane adapting his own short story, The Drop is an engrossing experience. Focused tightly on people rather than events, this is a taut and dark detour into the land of crime in grimy Brooklyn neighbourhoods. Every character has something to hide and an angle on the next move, and it's always just a bit crooked. Each mess is planned to be mopped up without attracting undue police intervention, and anyway, in this world crooks tangle with crooks and the public could care less.

Roskam constructs the quadrangle of Bob, Marv, Nadia and Eric with deliberate care. The characters are provided the necessary time and depth to develop, and the bonds between them emerge in multiple and often unexpected dimensions. Lehane has many surprises in store, and first impressions about almost everything await inevitable challenges as layers of prior history, deceit and desperation are slowly revealed.

The film builds tension without any respite. The Drop has no room for interludes of humour, romance or distraction. Even when Cousin Marv's Bar is filled with Super Bowl revellers the pressure is building with stuffed envelopes discreetly changing hands, glares and glances across the room, and devious minds working overtime to outmanoeuvre each other.

The superlative cast is excellent, with Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini (in his final film, posthumously released) perfect as the reticent and gruff odd couple jointly navigating each night's new surprises. Noomi Rapace provides Nadia with a suitably moody and suspicious disposition, while Matthias Schoenaerts is shifty and unnerving as the vaguely unhinged Eric.

The Drop builds to a brilliantly subdued bang, criminal scores efficiently settled in a crime-controlled bar, everything cleaned up by the time the morning crowd filters in.

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