There is nothing fundamentally wrong with The Drop, either aesthetically or narratively. It is hard to fault this effort from Belgian director Michael Roskam as an example of genre filmmaking that is executed very well by all involved. The problem is, for me at least, that I just couldn’t really access the characters enough to really care about what happens to them. The film looks and sounds great and the performances are all fine, but there is just something lacking in the development of the various characters that left me feeling somewhat ambivalent about their plight. Crime dramas are a tricky beast in that there is a fine line between constructing a story that contains sufficient narrative surprises without making the events too convoluted or illogical. Dennis Lehane, who adapted his own short story Animal Rescue, has also penned adapted works such as Mystic River and Gone, Baby Gone and he strikes the right balance.
British man-of-the-moment Tom Hardy is Bob Saginowski, a slow speaking and somewhat insular man who tends bar in an establishment managed by Marv, the late James Gandolfini in his final film appearance. You see, Marv is an old-school mobster who once owned the bar that bears his name but now finds himself beholden to the Chechan criminals who control the local underworld, including Uncle Marv’s, which they use a drop point for their ill-gotten gains. Whilst Marv is, perhaps understandably, somewhat bitter about his lot in life (he lives with his sister and is paying for his father’s upkeep in a nursing home), Bob is presented as an anomaly in the world he inhabits. He is seemingly thoughtful – allowing an old woman to hang out in the bar all day even though she can’t afford to pay for the drinks she consumes – and he attends mass every week at the local church. When the bar is robbed, the Chechans are not impressed and demand that the stolen money be recovered. Of course, there is more to the robbery than meets the eye and soon enough both Marv and Bob find themselves under threat.
When Bob discovers an abandoned dog in a rubbish bin, the pit bull pup soon becomes his companion. With the help of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), the woman who owns the bin in which the dog – subsequently dubbed Rocco – was found, Bob nurses Rocco back to health and they become a trio of sorts, with Nadia taking responsibility for Rocco when Bob is at the bar. In what is probably her best performance since her breakout in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo (and subsequent sequels), Rapace is very good as a woman reluctant to connect emotionally and her accented English does not seem out of place in this part of New York. Needless to say, as we have come to expect from stories such as this, nobody is exactly what they seem and there is much more going on with all of these characters than meets the eye.
Roskam certainly knows how to build tension but, as the true nature of the characters reveal themselves, the unease dissipates somewhat when you realise that, with the exception of Nadia and perhaps Rocco, it is hard to care what happens to the various players. I mean, Bob is constructed as the hero of the piece, yet he is far from the sensitive soul that we are expected to believe him to be. That is not to say that Hardy is not fine in the role because he gives a very strong performance, with Gandolfini and Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts – as boastful thug Eric Deeds – also very good. Anybody who has seen Rust and Bone will be aware of what Schoenaerts is capable of. The atmosphere throughout is dark and dour and Rokam has, in keeping with the religious references throughout – portrayed the cluttered lower-income neighbourhoods of Brooklyn as a kind of purgatory. On one level, the story also serves to explore the changing face of criminal culture in contemporary America as the old guard are shunted aside by a new breed of hoods. Whilst The Drop is a reasonably satisfying crime drama, it certainly doesn’t resonate to the point where it lingers in your mind after the credits have rolled.