Director Michaël R. Roskam’s latest film, “The Drop,” featuring James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy, may seem like the stereotypical Brooklyn mob crime thriller, complete with mysterious twists and turns. But smooth craftsmanship, powerful performances and unflinching tension make it well worth a watch.
The plot revolves around Bob (Hardy), a bartender at a neighborhood favorite in the wrong part of Brooklyn. He works for the bar’s namesake, Cousin Marv (Gandolfini), an aging gangster whose empire has long vanished. His turf—and his bar—belongs to Chechen mobsters who use the bar as one of many “drop bars,” or places where they stash their dirty money before it changes hands. The night when “Cousin Marv’s” is robbed acts as the catalyst of suspension, thickening the plot as secrets about the family and business begin to seep out.
Despite the familiar story, Roskam manages to weave primal suspicion into every shot. That feeling when something seems a little off for no reason—like a guy sitting under a streetlight smoking a cigarette at 2 a.m.—pervades throughout the entire film. The camera might linger on someone a second too long, or a seemingly predictable plot element goes awry. Roskam never gives anything away—he simply makes viewers pay attention to the details, planting ideas and moving forward at an efficient but deliberate pace. Audience members are bound to wait with white knuckles until the very end. The 106-minute movie feels like it lasts half an hour.
Though the direction is impressive, the performances of the late James Gandolfini and the remarkably versatile Tom Hardy are the pulse of the film.
Bob is among the most complex characters that Hardy has played, torn between his principles and what his situation necessitates. Hardy lets us know that Bob is a good guy, while hinting throughout the film at a darker side lurking under the surface. This nuanced performance is the anchor of the film.
Gandolfini, in his final appearance on film, offers Hardy A+ support in his role as Marv. He delivers the perfect performance to finish his career; a role rooted in a deep sadness that escapes almost entirely through his eyes. He commands the screen every time he is on it with his signature gravitas. It is also fitting, given his history on The Sopranos, that his last character is an aging mobster, raging against the dying of the light. It is a powerful, understated performance, a poetic end to a great career.
Dennis Lehane’s screenplay, based on his short story “Animal Rescue,” is taut and intriguing. He begins with several different, unrelated storylines that slowly intertwine throughout the course of the film. The tension continues to build until a killer twist at the end ties the whole thing together.
Lehane employs a similar structure in “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island,” but this new film is still incredibly entertaining, just not groundbreaking.
Bottom line: for an enjoyable experience that beats the heat, head down to the Americana and check out “The Drop.”