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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Drop Review: Gritty, Noir Taste of Brooklyn Crime

The Drop is old-school crime with a lovable puppy thrown in for color.
There's two different - and nearly diametrically opposed - Brooklyn, New Yorks: the new one, filled with hipsters and well-to-do's who attend Brooklyn Nets games at the arena. The other is the Brooklyn of my grandmother's time: working class, tough, and filled with characters you'd never pass on a dark walk home. This is the world surrounding The Drop, a classic gritty Noir thriller that brings Brooklyn back to its deservedly old-school status.

Bob (Tom Hardy) lives a solitary life in his dead parent's home, attends a soon-to-be shuttered church, and tends bar at Cousin Marv’s, a Brooklyn dive owned by his cousin Marv (the late James Gandolfini). Unfortunately, Marv has lost the bar to a Chechen gang who use it on occasion as a drop for all the dirty money they're making. After a robbery goes down in the bar, the Chechens demand their lost money, suspecting an inside job. But Bob has more important things to worry about: the discovery of a wounded Pit Bull puppy and the similarly battered Nadia (Noomi Rapace), along with the bruiser Deeds who not only expects Bob to pay for the dog but to stay away from his girlfriend. As the police begin to close in on the robbers, and the Chechens choose the bar for a Super Bowl drop, Bob must decide whether Deeds is a threat, while Marv must choose his destiny before the Chechens do it for him.

The Drop is directed by the Belgian Michaƫl R. Roskam, who's new to American cinema. His style - and appreciation for classic Noir - certainly shows in nearly every frame, and it's a welcome return to a genre that had gotten a bit...happy...in recent films. I love Noir because it's usually unrelenting and unapologetic, filled with villains who command the screen and anti-heroes that make us question why we love them so much. Our leads are well-drawn victims of their environment, forced either to one side (Bob) or the other (Deeds), while some (Nadia and Marv) are nudged just enough off-center to make them either victims or some thug's next meal.

Hardy's performance will seem dim-witted to the un-educated Summer movie fan, but his slow demeanor hides important reveals and a simmering rage that Hardy keeps tightly controlled until it's time to play. And when that moment happens, it reminded me of his performance in Lawless: more dangerous than any other person in the room, but never one to boast about it. Roskam lets Hardy and Gandolfini (in his final performance) chew on the meaty script by Penner Dennis Lehane, one moment playing deadpan humor and the next planning to how to get one over on the Chechens. We come to feel sorry for these characters, as if a breath of sunshine or a change of scenery would bring them back into the fold; but this isn't Fairytale Town, and I have zero problem with that.

And yet, it's not a perfect script: Marv's situation isn't nearly as deep as I'd hoped, and the film goes on a bit longer than needed. Lehane is trying to tell three stories - robbery, dog, exposition, whodunnit - some parts of which don't blend too well, leaving Marv out of the action for too long while emphasizing Bob's burgeoning relationship with Nadia. But Roskam's direction is solid, slowly building the tension between Bob, Marv, and Deeds while Lehane's rather sick sense of humor bubbles up throughout the film, adding much-needed levity to the terse environment. The appearance of the dog doesn't hurt either, its playful and loving glances at Nadia and Bob providing a contrast to the crime world Roskam paints so well.

In the end, The Drop achieves exactly what it sets out to do: tell a classic crime thriller that entertains just enough without trying too hard. It's a fitting end to a great career for Gandolfini, and one you shouldn't miss, whether you see it now or later. Add this one on your movie To-Do List, for it might even surprise us come Oscar season.

The Drop is rated R for some strong violence and pervasive language.and has a runtime of 106 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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