×

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Drop’

Tom Hardy gives another terrific performance as a Brooklyn bartender in writer Dennis Lehane's adaptation of his own short story.

With:
Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Ann Dowd, Michael Aronov, James Frecheville, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Tobias Segal, Michael Esper.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1600196/

For all the moderately surprising twists served up in “The Drop,” the big revelation turns out to be no revelation at all: Man, that Tom Hardy can act. Like an adorable puppy that turns out to boast an extremely sharp set of teeth, Hardy’s skillfully restrained performance as a mild-mannered Brooklyn bartender who finds himself an unwitting pawn in all manner of crooked schemes isn’t just the film’s strongest element; it’s the reason this serviceably constructed thriller remains as absorbing as it does, despite a succession of ham-fisted plot turns and goombah stereotypes. Dennis Lehane’s first adaptation of his own work feels minor compared with “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island,” but it’s not without its low-key pleasures, including a sturdy final screen performance from the late James Gandolfini. Fox Searchlight should expect some decent dough from this Sept. 12 release.

Fans of Lehane’s pungent Boston crime fiction may be a bit surprised that the scribe has relocated his Dorchester-set short story “Animal Rescue” (the film’s original title) to Brooklyn for the purposes of the film, though under the smooth direction of Belgian filmmaker Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”), there’s no major loss in seedy atmosphere. As Hardy’s happily infrequent voiceover informs us at the outset, the borough is home to any number of drinking establishments that double as “drop bars” — places where, on very rare nights, large quantities of dirty money can exchange hands away from the prying eyes of the police. Manning the counter at Cousin Marv’s is Bob Saginowski (Hardy), a soft-spoken, hard-working type who likes to keep his head down while Marv himself (Gandolfini) tends to the shadier dealings at the behest of Chovka (Michael Aronov), the Chechen crime lord who owns the bar.

That Bob dutifully attends Mass every morning but abstains from taking communion is an early clue that there’s more to this gruff but likable heavy than meets the eye. Whatever it may be, Hardy does a fine job of keeping the audience guessing: All we can assume is that he’s been scarred by some distant trauma, which may explain why he reacts with such fear and vulnerability when two masked robbers enter the bar and empty the register late one evening. Fortunately, it isn’t a drop-bar night, which means they’ve only lost $5,000. But it’s still enough to piss off Chovka and his thugs, who order them to recover the money — a tricky proposition, as Bob or Cousin Marv would presumably have to be in cahoots with the robbers in order to do so.

As that particular plot thickens, the film sets up a second narrative track in which Bob discovers a pitbull puppy in someone’s garbage, brutally beaten and left for dead by its owner. With the help of an attractive neighbor, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), he nurses the dog back to health, his better judgment and inexperience with pets overcome by his genuine affection for the animal. Naturally it’s not long before Nadia and Bob also begin to get close, taking turns walking and looking after Rocco, as they call him. But Bob soon finds himself inexplicably stalked by the dog’s original owner, Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), an intimidating ne’er-do-well who takes a sadistic pleasure in harassing our hero at every opportunity.

It’s hard to remember the last time a canine was made so shamelessly pivotal a character in a mainstream movie (“Marley & Me,” perhaps), but “The Drop” is at once upfront and highly effective in its manipulations, tugging at our heartstrings even as it flicks away at our nerves. Rocco is quite plainly a stand-in for Bob himself — a cute, defenseless, moist-eyed creature who can take only so much abuse before he finally snaps, and it’s clear enough from the setup that Bob will eventually come into his own and become a righteous defender of the weak, rather than remaining one of the weak himself.

Until then, however, the violence arrives from other quarters. Fittingly enough for this gangland genre territory, Roskam throws in the occasional impaled foot and severed limb for effect, but it all feels pretty tame and impersonal compared with the steroid injections and crushed testicles of “Bullhead,” his much more graphic study of tormented masculinity. (The director has learned to economize, however; “The Drop” clocks in at a welcome 106 minutes.) Meanwhile, Hardy underplays to the point of passivity, lowering his gaze, speaking in a mumble, shying away from confrontation and delaying the moment of truth as long as possible without turning the viewer against him.

While the climactic reversal is undeniably effective and darkly funny to boot, the drama can feel fairly creaky, even perplexing, during the buildup. The parallel narrative structure, cross-cutting between Bob’s woes at work and his puppy-love story at home, never seems especially organic — least of all when the two threads converge, and “The Drop” essentially becomes a three-way showdown, pitting Bob against Marv against Eric, and leaving it to the viewer to decide which man has more dangerously underestimated the others. This is one case of the destination being more satisfying than the journey: Even allowing for the generic requirements of a suspenseful action climax, the pieces don’t snap satisfyingly into place as they should, and it’s hard not to wonder if something crucial got distorted in the process of expanding Lehane’s story into a feature.

Slapping on a persuasive Noo Yawk accent and eliminating all traces of the suavity he’s displayed elsewhere, Hardy is so good here that it almost doesn’t matter that Bob feels like a somewhat hollow construct in the end, engineered to stir the audience’s compassion and their bloodlust simultaneously. In his English-language filmmaking debut, Roskam has pointedly cast both his countryman Schoenaerts (“Bullhead”) and Swedish actress Rapace (best known for the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” movie trilogy), neither of whom blends as seamlessly into the Brooklyn background as Hardy does, but who both prevail on the strength of their screen magnetism alone.

Elsewhere, John Ortiz and Ann Dowd round out the working-class environs with brief but effective turns as a nosy police detective and Marv’s put-upon sister, respectively. Adding further flavor and texture are Marco Beltrami’s lightly pulsing score and Nicolas Karakatsanis’ moody lensing of Brooklyn locations, whether on an abandoned street where a bloody double-cross is afoot, or under the golden glow of the lamps at Cousin Marv’s. As for Hardy’s four-legged co-stars, three puppies (aged a few weeks apart) handle Rocco’s thesping duties with predictably scene-stealing aplomb.

Unsurprisingly, though, it’s Gandolfini who offers the most invaluable support here, putting across Cousin Marv’s cynicism and capacity for reckless violence in a few deft, understated strokes, certainly all that’s needed from an actor whose iconic tough-guy stature can hardly be overestimated. “The Drop” may not be as moving or revelatory a final showcase for Gandolfini’s talents as last year’s “Enough Said,” but it’s a fitting, well-played note to end on nonetheless.

Toronto Film Review: 'The Drop'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 5, 2014. (Also in San Sebastian Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: A Fox Searchlight Pictures release and presentation of a Chernin Entertainment production made in association with TSG Entertainment and Ingenious Media. Produced by Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping. Executive producers, Mike LaRocca, M. Blair Breard, Dennis Lehane.

Crew: Directed by Michael R. Roskam. Screenplay, Dennis Lehane, based on his short story "Animal Rescue." Camera (color, widescreen), Nicolas Karakatsanis; editor, Christopher Tellefsen; music, Marco Beltrami; music supervisor, Gabe Hilfer; production designer, Therese DePrez; art director, Michael Ahern; set decorator, Mila Khalevich; costume designer, David Robinson; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Justin Gray; sound designer, Ron Bochar; re-recording mixers, Michael Barry, John Ross, Bochar;  special effects supervisor, Drew Jiritano; visual effects supervisor, Eran Dinur; visual effects producers, Richard Friedlander, Glenn Allen; visual effects, Brainstorm Digital; stunt coordinators, Stephen Pope, Bobby Beckles; associate producers, Chuck Ryant, John O'Grady, T.K. Knowles; assistant director, Timothy Bird.

With: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Ann Dowd, Michael Aronov, James Frecheville, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Tobias Segal, Michael Esper.

More Film

  • Choas Charles Mansion and the CIA

    Amazon Studios Takes Film Rights to Manson-Centered Drama 'Chaos' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the grisly murders executed by the followers of Charles Manson, Amazon Studios has optioned film rights to a nonfiction title about a journalist who spent decades obsessively following the case. The studio will adapt “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” from [...]

  • Sword of Trust

    Marc Maron on 'Sword of Trust,' Lynn Shelton and Conspiracy Theories

    Marc Maron has interviewed everyone from Bruce Springsteen to President Obama, so he’s probably learned a few things about being a good interview. Of course, as he points out, he generally has over an hour to talk leisurely speak with his guests in his home and draw out stories beyond the public narrative; it’s a [...]

  • Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The

    Andrew Lincoln's ‘Walking Dead’ Movies to Be Released Only in Theaters

    The first planned movie centered on “The Walking Dead” character Rick Grimes will now run in theaters rather than on AMC. The announcement was made with a brief teaser video played at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, with the video ending with the words “Only in Theaters.” The film will be distributed by Universal Pictures. [...]

  • Jennifer Beals The Last Tycoon

    Jennifer Beals Seeking SAG-AFTRA Board Seat as Matthew Modine Ally (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jennifer Beals is running for a SAG-AFTRA national board seat as a member of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Beals is best known for starring as Bette Porter on the Showtime series “The L Word” and for her lead role as Alex Owens in the 1983 hit “Flashdance.” She’s starred in the [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse Opens New Downtown Los

    Alamo Drafthouse Storms into L.A. with New Location

    “Cinema is alive and well tonight!” Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League declared at the theatrical venue’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday night, where a gathering of 160 employees cheered and sliced into a strip of 35mm film in keeping with the company’s tradition. Despite dire predictions heralding the end of the theater-going experience, League was upbeat [...]

  • The Lion King Teaser

    'The Lion King' Leaping to $185 Million North American Debut

    Disney’s “The Lion King” is heading for a dominant $185 million opening weekend in North America, early estimates showed Friday. Should that number hold, “The Lion King” will record the second-best opening of 2019 — and give the sagging domestic box office a badly needed boost. “The Lion King” would replace “Incredibles 2,” which launched [...]

  • Joe Anthony Russo

    Russo Brothers Announce 'Grimjack,' Live-Action 'Battle of the Planets' Adaptations

    Joe and Anthony Russo are looking to their youth to populate the development slate at their production company AGBO. A relatively obscure comic book called “Grimjack” will count the Russos as producers for an adaptation, they announced at San Diego Comic-Con. They’re also cooking up a live-action adaptation of the animated show “Battle of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content