Genre: Crime, Drama
Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts
Within the annals of contemporary Hollywood, James Gandolfini will forever be remembered as the archetypal embodiment of the modern-day gangster. So it’s only fitting that he adopts the mantle one final time in The Drop, the last role he completed before his premature death just over a year ago. Unfortunately, the film itself fails to be an equally compelling proposition. Adapted by the generally fiery and ferocious crime writer Dennis Lehane from his own short story ‘Animal Rescue’, The Drop is a slow-burning thriller that only truly ignites during its final act.
Gandolfini plays Marv, the once feared owner of a dive bar in Brooklyn who’s now at the mercy of the Chechen gangsters that have taken over his establishment and turned it into a hole to secretly launder their money through. Marv runs the bar with his cousin Bob (Tom Hardy), a detached individual who currently finds himself opening up his heart to a puppy he finds battered in a dustbin and the psychologically damaged neighbour (Noomi Rapace) who helps him treat it. Bob and Marv’s situation takes a turn for the worse however, when their bar is hit by armed robbers and they find themselves in debt to the mobsters whose money was stolen.
Taking the helm of his first English language film following the critically celebrated crime drama Bullhead, director Michaël R. Roskam clearly has aspirations of making an indelible mark on American cinema here. But his efforts are thwarted at nearly every turn by Lehane’s uncharacteristically weak script. As a gangster film in particular it’s a dud, comprising of a plot we’ve had told to us on more occasions than we’d like to remember, persistently jarring dialogue, and a frustrating lack of focus. That the antagonistic Chechen gangsters are about as three-dimensional as a cardboard cut-out does little to enhance the tension, which is baron more often than it is brooding.
As a character study it fares a little better. Not because of the human characters though. Compounded with Marv and Bob’s monetary predicament is a tale of companionship that finds Tom Hardy giving an unnaturally subdued performance and Noomi Rapace lumbered with delivering the same spiel we heard in last year’s Dead Man Down. It’s plodding and disjointed for much of the first and second act, and only starts to stir as it enters its endgame. Here Roskam finally succeeds in stringing together a succession of decent scenes, some of which even allow Hardy to release the inner beast that’s frustratingly absent for much of the rest of the film.
What’s never missing in The Drop though is atmosphere thanks to the effortlessly effective Brooklyn setting. It’s a place that by its very nature effervesces a real and palpable danger that heightens the film’s effect even when the narrative is at its weakest. Nicolas Karakatsanis’ superbly methodical camera prowls through the dimly lit bars and poverty-stricken projects, ingraining the film with a raw and gritty mood that just about covers the cracks in Lehane’s writing.
It’s Gandolfini who holds your attention until the very end however. In many ways, it’s a performance that brings his onscreen mobster persona full circle. When people first saw him on their screens it was as Virgil, the young sadistic hitman who was sent to kill Patricia Arquette in True Romance. Over the course of The Sopranos, Gandolfini rose through the ranks to become the head of the mob, an illustrious rise that was offset by many ignominious falls from grace. Here we find him as the gruff gangster who’s a mere shadow of the man he used to be; he’s a powerful presence with no authority to command. The Drop may not be a particularly absorbing proposal, but the opportunity to see Gandolfini on the screen one more time is simply an offer you can’t refuse.