Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Drop

THE DROP (Michaёl R. Roskam, 2014)

In THE DROP Cousin Marv’s Bar in Brooklyn looks like any number of neighborhood establishments, but it’s also one of the designated places where crime bosses may choose to have the night’s collected cash dropped off for safe keeping. Marv (James Gandolfini), the owner in name only, and bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) never know when their workplace will be the drop bar. Someone is wise to the system, though, when two masked men with inside information hold up the place on an evening that Cousin Marv’s is appointed to receive all the dirty money. The thieves get away with five thousand dollars.

The Chechen mobsters who really own the bar consider Marv and Bob to be obligated to compensate for the loss if the stolen cash isn’t found. Bob has trouble on other fronts too. Detective Torres (John Ortiz), who is investigating the robbery, suggests he’s keeping tabs on Bob by remarking that he recognizes him from 8 a.m. Mass services and has noticed he never takes Communion. Bob finds some relief in the pit bull puppy he rescues from a garbage can and Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a waitress who warms up to him after seeing his gentleness with the dog. Still, the good comes with the bad, in this case in the form of Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), an unstable thug rumored to have killed someone ten years earlier. He has connections to Nadia and the pit bull and tries to intimidate Bob into leaving both behind or paying Eric to go away.

Hardy does nice work showing Bob choose the path of least resistance through his rough environment while avoiding seeming like a pushover. In the rare sections he narrates his mush-mouthed voiceover echoes Linda Manz in DAYS OF HEAVEN, as though he’s of and outside the mean world he landed in. Bob is a quiet guy who likes to say he just tends the bar as he attempts to maintain a low profile. Patrons at Cousin Marv’s describe him as Sphinx-like. Bob doesn’t consider himself an active player in the criminal doings around him, but he’s embedded in that world regardless of what he contends his role, or lack thereof, to be in it. Hardy softens his voice as Bob and carries himself in a non-threatening manner, yet he transmits a sense that he’s a dangerous guy despite his demeanor. When a severed arm is delivered to the bar, he wraps it up like a butcher packaging a roast and discards it as though it’s meat that’s turned rancid. He doesn’t amplify conflicts with his antagonists but doesn’t seem cowered by such interactions either. Bob has apparently consigned himself to a lifetime of loneliness, although the reasons for his decision aren’t immediately clear.

Screenwriter Dennis Lehane adapts his own short story for THE DROP, cramming the film full of the kind of local color and details one would expect from a crime novelist. Gradually it becomes evident that the community’s flavor and performances are what THE DROP has going for it at the expense of a satisfying story that dribbles along. Somehow the plot feels padded out and yet insubstantial. Watching THE DROP is like getting a diet soda when expecting the sugary version. It approximates the calorie-laden drink while being distinctly off enough to want something richer.

That sense of something missing is most noticeable when THE DROP ties together all of the loose ends. One revelation lands hard, but another misses due to the tangled build-up to its conclusion. The final scene plays at odds with much preceding it, wrapping THE DROP with a happier ending than one that it seemed to be pointing toward and deserved.

Grade: C+

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