In “The Drop”, James Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a snarky, chain-smoking former bar owner. Marv juggles problem after problem, winning everyone over, all with sheer charm and charisma.
Cousin Marv encapsulates all that “The Drop” is. Based on a Dennis Lehane short story titled “Animal Kingdom”, with a screenplay by Lehane himself, “The Drop” is a dirty, gritty, and surprisingly witty character study about the seedy underbelly of Brooklyn that should win many people over in the same ways that Marv does.
While not nearly as plot laden as other Lehane work such as “Gone Baby Gone” or “Mystic River”, this movie is more interested in cranking up the tension by creating a web of characters and their interactions.
Marv’s bar is a drop bar, used by the Chechen mob to hide illegal gambling money. When the bar is robbed by two masked idiots and $5,000 is stolen, the Chechens expect Marv to pay them back. Just like Detective Torres (John Ortiz), the officer investigating the robbery, the Chechens no doubt suspect that Marv knows more about the robbery than he is letting on.
And then, there is Tom Hardy’s Bob Saginowski, a seemingly dim, always silent bartender and Marv’s actual cousin. Bob quietly goes about his life, repeating the same day over and over. He attends Catholic mass every morning at 8 AM, where he never takes Communion, which implies there is something much more and dark going on with Bob.
As if dealing with the Chechen mob wasn’t enough, Bob’s world really gets turned upside down after he finds an abandoned pit bull puppy in a trash can outside the house of Nadia (Noomi Repace), a former junkie with her own scarred (literally) past. It only gets muddier when Nadia’s former boyfriend and overall loser, Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), starts stalking Bob and threatening him and his new sweet little puppy dog.
While the name “Animal Kingdom” would have been misleading for a movie such as this, it’s much more apropos than “The Drop”. The metaphors are strewn all over this movie like confetti. Are some of them obvious and emotionally manipulative? Absolutely.
Sure, it’s clear that Bob’s newfound pit bull puppy, all sweet and loving but yet with that innate ability to attack when provoked, is a giant metaphor for Bob himself. Is seeing him care for that gorgeous doggie and his big brown eyes a cheap trick to make you fall for Bob even more? Yeah, it sure is.
Doesn’t matter. Director Michael Roskam weaves in these fantastically deep and interesting characters with precision. This is a movie with so much happening in it, sometimes balancing three or four story lines, that only times out at 106 minutes. That in itself is a directing and editing miracle.
Roskam and the actors create tension with silence. For a movie with very little onscreen violence, the threat of violence is always present, always lurking around every corner that Bob turns. There are moments when Bob is simply standing in a park with his puppy that are terrifying only due to sheer dread.
In his final role, James Gandolfini could be rewarded with his first Academy Award nomination. If you’re worried this is a rehashing of that other mobster that he’s famous for portraying, rest easy. Gandolfini’s Marv is nothing like that larger than life character.
This is a portrayal of a man that was once feared and respected who now walks around knowing he isn’t anymore, but still acts as if he is. It’s a sad, deeply emotional performance and, sadly, a fitting finale from such a tremendously talented actor.
It’s not that Noomi Repace is poor in “The Drop”, it’s that she’s played the emotionally battered woman so many times that it’s become repetitive. The good news is that she is so great at it that it’s no wonder she is continually cast in these parts.
At some point, Tom Hardy will be clutching a gold statue. It may not be for his portrayal of Bob Saginowski, but if it is, there shouldn’t be any arguing.
Calling Hardy’s performance a slow burn is an understatement. This easily goes into the top ten of slowest slow burns of all time. Hardy speaks slowly, as if he’s having trouble remembering the meaning of the words he is saying. However, when he corrects Marv’s pronunciation of “Chechens”, you know there is much more to this person than the way Hardy appears on screen.
“The Drop” would be an above average gangster flick based on direction and writing alone. Hardy and Gandolfini are so captivating that it’s impossible to not stay glued in to this fantastic thriller.
But when “The Drop” boils over and every plot line and character come crashing into each other, it is truly a thing of beauty and maybe the most nerve-wracking fifteen to twenty minutes of a movie that you will see this year.
Also, that puppy really is precious…and that always helps.