Thursday, September 11, 2014
Michaël R. Roskam's The Drop doesn't exactly venture into new territory. Its story places two small-scale hustlers, Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) and his cousin, known to all as Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), at the center of a treacherous and complicated scheme right out of Noir 101. Now owned by Chechen mobsters, the eponymous Cousin Marv's Bar is robbed by two dim assailants on the night it happens to be the assigned drop bar receiving all of the Chechens' protection money collected at other bars. This instantly puts Bob and Cousin Marv in hot water with the bar's deadly owners who suspect an inside job. Though the robbers were masked, Bob notices a curious detail: one of the thieves was wearing a stopped watch. Mentioning it to lead investigator Detective Torres (John Ortiz) inexplicably raises Cousin Marv's ire and sets him against his soft-spoken relative.
Not quite a new tale, it's The Drop's strong and subtle performances that elevate it above the average crime story rehash. Hardy is understated as the sensitive Bob, a quiet guy who keeps to himself. Mostly. Except when the cries of an abandoned dog left in a trash can indirectly draw him into a relationship with the owner of said can, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), another wounded soul who's still being stalked by creepy ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (a surprisingly menacing Matthias Schoenaerts). Hardy plays Bob as someone who might be a little slow when it comes to criminal matters. But he is emotionally intuitive, perhaps even to the point of distraction, when it comes to connecting with those in pain. It's his sense of Cousin Marv's bitterness—the humiliation at having lost the bar to the Chechens over a debt; the embarrassment over the failure to hold his own in the criminal big leagues—that serves as Bob's tip-off that something is not quite right in how the robbery went down.
Lamentably, Gandolfini doesn't get to stretch much in his final film role as Cousin Marv, not in the way he did in another posthumous film, last year's Enough Said. The part is just not unique enough for Gandolfini in the way Bob is for Hardy. Cousin Marv is a low-level thug who runs a bit colder than Tony Soprano and has less of his smarts. But the bar manager is what holds the movie together. Gandolfini imbues this sad sack loser with a kind of familiarity that permeates on through to the rest of The Drop. And though an unexpected turn late in the movie feels closer to a plot point you'd see in a Western than one you'd see in a noir, the film's overall deja vu effect is not an undesirable one. With so few crime stories of this kind making it onto the screen these days, The Drop is a solidly mounted reminder that tried and true can work just as well as fresh and original.