By Marcianne Miller
Fast Cut: Small crime drama gem.
Special Note: James Gandolfini’s last role is a worthy one.
Players: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts.
Director: Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead, 2011, Oscar nominated)
Rating: Rated R for some strong violence and pervasive language.
Currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
As I watched The Drop at an early morning press screening, being a writer, I was awed by the script and kept imagining its pages turn as the scenes onscreen evolved. The neighborhood bar setting was so real it seemed you could smell the sweat and beer. Each character was treading warily in life, carrying a troublesome, mysterious past. The story was full of longing and unpredictable detours and an ending that, though it was inevitable, came like a shot in the dark. The Drop is already on my list for Best of the Year, along with two other crime dramas Cold in July (starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson), and the Irish Calvary (starring Brendan Gleeson) .
For the record, not all the other critics agreed with me. And the movie is not for everyone. It’s a story of people who’ve made some bad choices in life, who wish they could push the re-wind button and start all over. It’s dark and insular and there are no pretty landscapes. The ambiguous morality could bother people who like their heroes squeaky clean.
But in the hands of a writer like Dennis Lehane (and a director like Belgian Michael R. Roskam, doing his first English-language film), The Drop reaches a fullness of humanity that few films have done this year. Most especially, The Drop is a feast of great performances, each actor seeming to draw on histories of unspoken hurts, whereby they’ve learned it’s too treacherous to even think of something as out of reach as hope.
If you are a fan of Dennis Lehane (novels-to-movies such as Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River), you’ll love The Drop. Shot in New York (instead of Lehane’s usual Boston environs), the film is based, not on a novel, but a short story he wrote ten years ago, Animal Rescue. The Drop is the first film script Lehane has written. To come up with a story that would fill up movie time, Lehane had to greatly enlarge the scope of the short story, especially filling out the secondary characters. He liked the final script so much he turned it into a novel–The Drop (William Morrow, 224 pp) just came out. Any serious writing student will want to follow the incarnations from short story to script to novel. You’d probably learn more by doing that than spending a whole semester in film school.
It’s blue collar Brooklyn, just after Thanksgiving. Bob Saginowski (London-born Tom Hardy) is a big guy who wears his loneliness like a spray of slush. He lives in the house he was born in, gauging the perimeters of his world by the boundaries of his parish. He works as the night bartender at Marv’s, which is used as “a drop” by the local Chechen gangsters to launder money.
The bar is owned by Bob’s cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, TV’s The Sopranos in a memorable last role), who smokes too much, never says anything nice, and has seen his glory days fade with the arrival of foreign criminals. He desperately wants back into the big time. “I had something once,” he cries.” I was respected. I was feared.”
While walking home one night, Bob hears pitiful noises behind a neighbor’s fence. He takes the lid off a trash can and discovers an abandoned puppy, freezing, hungry and covered in dried blood. The neighbor turns out to be Nadia (Swedish Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a brittle, thin-lipped waitress, who would surely bite Bob’s head off if he looked at her the wrong way. In fits and starts, Bob and Nadia bond over the care of the puppy, but the course of their romance is not smooth. Not only are each of them in need of psychological help, but outside threats seem to come from every corner.
Two stupid robbers manage to run away from the bar with an enormous sum of money. The Chechens are not happy. Nadia’s sociopath former boyfriend, Eric (Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts) shows up, claiming he wants the puppy back and bragging about the man that he killed a while back. He demands Bob pay him $10,000 for the dog on the night of the Super Bowl, when the Chechens happen to be planning a huge drop at the bar. Worse, Marvin, tired of living with his sister, seems to be scheming one last scam. “Are you doing something desperate?” Bob demands from Marvin. “Something we can’t clean up this time?”
Marvin, as he did before, says nothing. His silence is the answer Bob needs. He knows, by the time the night ends, that evil will arrive and he will have to deal with it.
Extras: You can find a copy of Dennis Lehane’s short story, Animal Rescue, on which The Drop was based, at this site.
Marcianne Miller has been reviewing films in Asheville for 10+ years. She’s a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Assn.) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Assn.) Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.