At first glance, “The Drop” sounds a lot like a lot of other gritty underworld dramas. A Brooklyn neighborhood bar designated as a cash drop for organized crime is robbed. Now mobsters are after the two struggling bartenders who were working at the time.
But two important attributes differentiate this one. The writing (it’s penned by Dennis Lehane, whose “Mystic River” was adapted into an Oscar-winning film and whose “Shutter Island,” a Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration, was the underappreciated film of 2010) and the acting.
“The Drop” is heralded as James Gandolfini’s final performance before his sudden death in June of last year. The Sopranos’ icon was born to play roles like Cousin Marv — a washed-up once-connected guy whose name remains on the bar he was forced to sell to Chechnyan mobsters years before.
The real standout, however, is Tom Hardy, who never fails to amaze (see sidebar). Hardy’s Bob Saginowski — Marv’s cousin and fellow bartender — is a study in nuance. Saginowski seemingly leads a quiet lonely life yet attends mass daily though never takes communion — a hint that grave sins beyond forgivable contaminate his soul. Like the docile pit-bull that he adopts, we’re compelled to look beyond the peripheral to the evil we know must lie beneath.
The dog. It’s more than a catalyst for Saginowski’s burgeoning relationship with fellow loner Nadia (Noomi Rapace). It is his mini-me and a reminder of his morally untenable connection to the streets, particularly when the dog’s abusive owner, Nadia’s maniacal ex, wants him back.
Academy Award-nominated director Michael R. Roskam keeps the mood gray. And though complex, the film moves along at a quick pace with the suspense well-sustained as Marv and Saginowski work to keep one step ahead of both the Russian mob and a detective who is one of Saginowski’s fellow parishioners. Awkward!
A few requisite twists, but what is more notable is Lehane’s solid writing and outstanding character development.