By Michael James Gonzalez
The list is long and distinguished of classic New York crime dramas. So long in fact that enough films have been made since the 1970s–from Mean Streets to American Gangster–to make this category its own genre, containing all of the familiar narrative ingredients we’ve come to love in such films: cool, street-hardened wise guys, the seedy bar or restaurant which doubles as the meeting house, secret rendezvous by the docks, the world-weary detective, the lead gangster’s damsel in distress, the gritty underside of working class neighborhoods just trying to make an extra buck and who look after themselves, and of course the brutal depictions of murder and mayhem. Belgian director Michael R. Roskam’s latest contribution to the genre is not any kind of reinvention, but it succeeds on its own merits and definitely honors the tradition rather than detract from it. The Drop, which stars Tom Hardy and, sadly, James Gandolfini in his final film performance, is set in present-day Brooklyn and follows lonesome bartender Bob Saginowski (Hardy) who works at his overbearing cousin Marv’s (Gandolfini) bar, which is actually owned by ruthless Chechen gangsters who make frequent “drops” of money for safekeeping. Early on, Bob finds himself at the end of his employers’ spear, as it were, and becomes embroiled in a police investigation after a robbery gone awry. Walking home one night, Bob finds a Pit Bull puppy which by happenstance connects him with Nadia, a pretty waitress played by Noomi Rapace, and by consequence, to Eric, Nadia’s psychopathic ex-boyfriend who claims to be the dog’s rightful owner, played with chilling intensity by Matthias Schoenaerts. The plot moves at a slow burn as past events reveal themselves and we discover how all the characters are intertwined, but there’s never a dull minute as the impending doom that pervades the narrative no doubt occurs at its predictable but satisfying climax. What is interesting and even frustrating at times is Hardy’s characterization of Bob, which seems to have been inspired by a mix of late period Mike Tyson and the character of Lenny from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. He’s a gentle giant who, much like his newly found furry friend, is misunderstood but for opposite reasons. Whereas Pit Bulls are thought to be naturally violent and aggressive but are actually quite gentle, Bob isn’t exactly a pushover. The film heavily focuses on plot, giving us only peripheral glimpses into the story behind its main characters, and sometimes certain coincidences that connect the characters and events feel a bit contrived. What is also left to be desired is the great music infused in similar films that has also come to be a defining ingredient of the genre. However, the strong performances and authentic look and feel of the film make it quite entertaining and worth spending the 103 minutes. It’s clear that Roskam studied previous luminaries of the genre-no doubt the master himself, Martin Scorsese among them-in preparation, which gave me the sense that perhaps The Drop is a warm up for something more ambitious in the future. Either way, I look forward to Roskam’s future endeavors.
We’ve Seen a Version of The Drop, But It’s Worth Watching
By Michael James Gonzalez