The late James Gandolfini delivers his final performance in “The Drop.” While his work is reliably solid, it’s Tom Hardy who makes this insular crime drama so memorable.
The British character actor stars as Bob Saginowsky, a Brooklyn lifer who always seems to stand at the edge of the frame, observing and trying to stay out of the way. His narrow vocabulary and look-at-the-floor demeanor help him blend into the grimy scenery. Hard to believe this is the same actor who played the mountainous supervillain Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
“In Brooklyn, money changes hands all night long,” says Bob, who slings drinks at Cousin Marv’s Bar.
The neighborhood dive used to be a hub for loan-sharking back in the day. But then the Chechen mob took over, leaving proprietor Marv (Gandolfini) a lapdog to this more fearsome organization. Now the bar is used as their “drop.” On rotating evenings, cash from illegal activities is held at the venue, which becomes “the safe for an entire city” until morning.
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When the tavern is robbed by masked goons on an off-drop night, the Chechens expect Marv and Bob to retrieve the money.
This is not the kind of responsibility Bob wants. His life is already getting too complicated after adopting a pit bull puppy he found abused and abandoned in a trash can.
At least his neighbor Nadia (Noomi Rapace of “Prometheus”) — a Russian waitress with her own abuse issues — offers to help him with the chore. But she has bigger problems when a fresh-from-the-loony-bin former boyfriend (creepy Matthias Schoenaerts) returns to make peculiar demands.
Meanwhile, Detective Torres (John Ortiz) starts poking into the robbery — and into a cold case of a murdered man who was last seen at Marv’s years ago.
All these stray elements collide in a satisfying finale thanks to the confident hand of Belgian director Michael R. Roskam, whose “Bullhead” earned a best foreign language film nomination at the 2012 Oscars.
For his first English-language effort, Roskam avoids flashy visuals and hurried pacing to sell this subtle character drama. Instead, he aims for dry grittiness. The bland, cluttered Brooklyn envisioned by the filmmaker appears far removed from the hipster-rich boutique area that typifies the borough these days.
In adapting his own short story “Animal Rescue,” screenwriter Dennis Lehane shifts the action away from the usual blue-collar Boston haunts found in “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone.” But the Lehane vibe of small-timers clinging to desperate solutions remains. This is a film rife with simmering menace.
Keeping it all enjoyable is Hardy (next found as the lead in “Mad Max: Fury Road”). What his Bob lacks in proactive momentum, he makes up for in chaste likability. Whether interacting with his dog, his sultry neighbor or his sketchy boss, Bob seems intent on doing the right thing — even if “right” is a morally subjective term.
There’s a line that the nosy detective utters near the end of the picture (which we won’t spoil) that sums up the whole enterprise. It so elegantly states who Bob is and what motivates him that the movie demands a second viewing just to see what kind of clues Roskam and Lehane have dropped in earlier scenes.
Perhaps that’s what “The Drop” of the title truly denotes.
Rated R | Time: 1:46