Director: Michael R. Roksman
Stars: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini
3 (out of 5) Globes
The movies made from the novels of Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone”) tend to be grandiose and plot-heavy — nailbiters that disguise what they really are: temperature-takings of working class neighborhoods, where crime is so deeply rooted it’s impossible to imagine them functioning without it. They’re sprawling narratives. “The Drop” is more like a deep hang. It has a high-stakes story involving robbery and Chechen mobsters and loose cannon thugs. But it’s more (intentionally) shambolic, in no rush to get to its hair-raising climax, which winds up far from predictable anyway.
In fact, it’s a straight-up character study, and of someone who doesn’t want to be known. “The Drop” has Tom Hardy adopt his sing-song line delivery to a thick Brooklyn accent. He’s Bob Saginowski, a lowly bartender at a grimy local previously owned by his cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final performance), now owned by aforementioned mafia goons, which has rendered Marv emasculated, bitter and vaguely untrustworthy. The joint is sometimes a drop site for dirty money. One night it’s robbed by some lowly stick-up artists, and the scary owners aren’t too happy.
Here are the makings for a tense, escalating thriller. Instead of snapping into action, though, Bob takes care of a dog. Earlier he found an adorable young pitbull, bloody and hurt, in a trashcan. There’s more screentime of him nursing the dog back to health and debating whether to call it Rocco or Mike (spoiler: he goes with Rocco) than there is him doing much with his looming predicament. He also engages in a hesitant romance with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a weathered neighborhood gal with a scarily skeezy ex (Matthias Schoenaerts, the Belgian star of “Rust and Bone”), who starts sidling up to Bob and making creepy, cryptic threats.
This is going somewhere, and somewhere intense, but it’s not clear what form the conclusion will take till it’s already happened. “The Drop” is a lot like its protagonist: Quiet, unassuming, head down, somewhat meandering — yet also capable of sudden bursts of leftfield confidence. When it suddenly snaps into tight focus, the effect of watching it is like being shot. The ending especially throws one off: There’s something strangely funny about it, as though it’s asking you to have a laugh through hands over the eyes. There’s no obvious, readymade way of handling it.
“The Drop” perhaps isn’t as mysterious as the actor playing its protagonist. Hardy has always been a fascinatingly remote actor, prone to mumbling the few, sometimes cryptic things he chooses to say. Bob owns the sporadically-used narration track, but we hardly know him and we can’t pin him down. At times Hardy seems to be channeling the young Robert De Niro: Trapped inside himself, his every infrequent utterance curious and unpredictable. But no one’s like Hardy, and not even De Niro was ever this strange and possibly never quite this magnetic. And this isn’t even one of Hardy’s best performances.
“The Drop” also gets Lehane’s knowledge of how neighborhoods function better than most. (The best throwaway: A dockworker tells a detective to ease off investigating Marv’s establishment: “That’s my bar. Don’t f— with my bar.”) This is a Lehane original, his first major screenplay. (It’s not his first ever screenplay, though: Apart from TV work — including on “The Wire,” of course — he wrote and directed a 1996 indie called “Neighborhoods” that he keeps so hidden that not even his wife has seen it.)
Then again, it takes him from his native Boston to Brooklyn. In fact, the entire film is stocked with outsiders. Three of the four leads are from England, Sweden and Belgium, from where filmmaker Michael R. Roksman (“Bullhead”) also hails. As far as movies by European filmmakers set in Brooklyn and featuring Schoenaerts (excellent, as usual) go, “The Drop” fares better than Guillaume Canet’s “Blood Ties,” which offered a fantasy 1970s dirty Hollywood version of the city (plus a less gripping form of a focus-handicapped narrative). It’s not clear how accurate “The Drop” is as a Brooklyn movie, but it feels like it’s an accurate portrayal of something.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge