Wednesday, September 17, 2014

[Review] The Drop

It's tough to come across a solid America-set gangster flick nowadays, but this is definitely one worth seeing. The Drop is directed by Michael R. Roskam (the man responsible for 2011's sluggish, but impressive Academy Award nominee Bullhead). It's written by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River & Boardwalk Empire). And it stars Tom Hardy and Matthias Schoenaerts (who gave one hell of a performance in Bullhead), as well as the late, great James Gandolfini.

Set in a bleak-looking Brooklyn, the deliberately humorless Bob (Hardy) tends bar at a place called Cousin Marv's. Marv (Gandolfini) is the bitter former owner of the establishment, which is now run by Chechen mobsters. The dive serves as a drop box for funneling dirty and bloody (sometimes literally) cash. Bob anchors the story--he puts up with robberies and uncomfortable visits from mobsters, all while reiterating that he's "only the bartender." In his personal life, he rescues an abandoned dog, makes friends with a local woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and crosses paths with a shady character named Eric Deeds. But in this small and rundown neighborhood, everything is interconnected, and not in a good way. Each event fuels a slow burn of conflict and crisis in a deceptively quiet and genuinely unpredictable manner. It's discomforting in the best way.

The cold, see-your-breath atmosphere lends to the twisty story, as well as the twisted morals. In a similar turn to Roskam's Bullhead, there is a significant focus on symbolism and visual metaphor, giving the film a richness that doesn't feel phoned in. The script is driven by great dialogue, and the performances are superb all around. All these pieces elevate The Drop above many of the past decade's mediocre and flat-out bad efforts in the organized crime genre. It deserves its clich├ęs and its coincidences. It earns its place.

Gandolfini is brooding, reveling in his knack for delivering snappy lines of dialogue, while also reminding us how much it sucks that he's gone. Hardy's character appears awkward at first, but he eventually comes into form, subtly revealing a few shades reminiscent of On The Waterfront-style Marlon Brando. Matthias Schoenaerts is the perfect scumbag as Eric Deeds. Noomi Rapace is good, but much like many male-driven mob movies, her underdeveloped character unfortunately gets lost in the shuffle, seeming like a puppet at times.

It's no secret that many mob movies of old have set a hard-to-reach standard, but The Drop proves that a good one can still sneak up on you.


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