Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini deliver excellent performances in The Drop, a cutthroat thriller that feels like a narrative unsure of its tone and how to handle its supporting characters. The film shines when it allows those two actors to occupy the screen at once. They are dynamic, versatile forces, the latter of which is sorely missed, particularly when he plays ruthless men connected with the mob. Unfortunately, much of the film’s underlying elements never mesh with the appropriately compact narrative: the underutilized female character (yes, the entire film has a single one) and the ethnic villains feel like tacked-on additions that don’t work with the layered male leads. It’s unfortunate considering the enigmas that Hardy and Gandolfini play, both given room to breathe and create life in their roles. Enough of the film is suspenseful and compelling to work through those kinks, yet it prevents The Drop from achieving loftier goals.
The story centers on Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a Brooklyn native that works at Cousin Marv’s Bar. The Marv (James Gandolfini) from which the bar gets its name made a mistake down the line and no longer owns his establishment, but still runs the day-to-day operations alongside Bob, who acts as a bartender and responsible manager of the joint. Their bar occasionally functions as a place for “drops,” where mob members drop off money to be put in a safe located underneath the hardwood until the end of the night, when it is then delivered directly to the mob and business moves along as usual. One night, a robbery goes awry that leads to the loss of $5,000, sparking an investigation that ultimately becomes cumbersome for everyone involved. Detective Torres (John Ortiz) involves himself with the criminal study and notices something is wrong but cannot pinpoint what exactly.
Then there is concern surrounding an abused puppy that Bob discovers when walking home from work. The puppy was placed in a garbage can outside of Nadia’s (Noomi Rapace) home; she treats Bob as an unwelcome visitor but ultimately they start a friendship vicariously through the dog. The original owner of the little pit bull, Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), is a psychopath ex-boyfriend of Nadia’s that torments Bob in his pursuit of his animal. The film remains consistently busy with its plot but never feels bloated, primarily because all of the problems stem from a select few characters. Bob stands within almost all of the film’s conflict, and Hardy puts on a magnetic performance that towers over the film and its effectiveness. He provides Bob with a kindness and a secret looming underneath his calm demeanor; he attends church everyday and cares for the dog passionately, signs that point to a good man, but nothing is as it seems.
The Drop gels masterfully, particularly when Hardy and Gandolfini occupy a scene together. Gandolfini brings his traditionally strong persona to a man working with the mob but allows Marv to become his own maniacal creation. Director Michaël R. Roskam works well in getting strong performances from his male characters, with Schoenaerts also delivering an impressive supporting turn. The film is often framed appropriately but utilizes awkward camera tricks in close-ups and blurry effects. The film’s biggest offense, however, comes from delegating Rapace to such a graceless, bland role as Nadia, creating a cardboard character with no distinct characteristics outside of how the men define her. It’s frustrating considering her known talents. Tonally the film becomes wonky in its conclusion since it employs comedy that creates an awkward dynamic. Regardless of those missteps, The Drop remains an enjoyable, surprising character study with impressive performances.
Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)