Unfairly billed as Tom Hardy’s Puppy Love The Drop is a film that far exceeds the sub-plot involving Mr. Hardy and his canine friend. Instead it’s a character driven crime drama; a smart, seething often lethargic piece of cinema which manages to be quiet and reserved for much of its running time before gradually revealing a powerful ending.
Bob (Tom Hardy) is a barman at his cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini) Brooklyn drinking joint. But the bar doesn’t really belong to Marv, it belongs to the local crime syndicate who use it as a “drop bar” – a place that takes all the illegal money made over the course of a night before it is collected. So when two masked robbers hold up the bar the mafia are rightly suspicious of Bob and Marv. Meanwhile Bob finds an abandoned puppy in the dustbin of Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and the pair strike up a friendship much to the anger of her former boyfriend and reputed local murderer Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts).
The film is in no rush to answer the questions it poses. Instead it dives deep into Bob’s existence. Played with an almost De Niro-esque understatement it’s another typical powerhouse performance from Tom Hardy. Because Bob is quiet, withdrawn and a man who likes to keep to himself. But you always sense there’s something beneath Bob’s subdued demeanor, a darkness that he’s either burying or trying to atone for. He’s a good Catholic, he goes to church but crucially doesn’t take Holy Communion.
His meeting of Nadia, and more importantly the dog Rocco, sparks something in Bob but he never shows it. It’s the promise of something more. The possibility that he doesn’t have to be alone, that either Nadia, Rocco or both could offer him company and perhaps solace from the demons that make it hard for him to maintain eye contact with people.
Based on Dennis Lehane’s short story, and also adapted for the screen by him, The Drop is, on the surface, a typical slice of a New York crime saga. Dark alleys, seedy bars guys with attitude and shadows lurking round every corner just waiting to mug or murder you. Bullhead director Michaël R. Roskam paints a murky picture to match the puddles that form on the street outside. There’s no glamour here, this is real world crime rather than Hollywood’s gun-totting visuals. The bar is a depressing place, badly lit and drab colours. The apartments seen throughout are miserable places designed for little else than eating and quietly seething your life away in front of the telly on your lazy-boy chair.
At times it’s slow, glacial with its determination to do little else than let us briefly glimpse Bob trying to keep his head down while all around seem to be losing theirs. But The Drop’s power comes in its ability to lull you into a smart sense of foreboding dread. Crucial to this are a collection of fantastic performances. Ganfolfini, to whom the film is lovingly dedicated, in his final role demonstrates why he will be so sorely missed. His Marv is a bitter man, all deep breaths at his lot in life, even his relationship with Bob seems strained despite their also obvious closeness. Rapace feels slightly wasted often sidelined by that cute dog but she brings a sense of being out of her depth in this world to match the viewing experience. Schoenaerts is stunning as Eric, his menacing colossus filling the frame even making the otherwise broad shoulders of Hardy look intimidated. Meanwhile Hardy quietly and almost begrudgingly carries the film, because Bob just wants to be left alone and while the world has other ideas. Between this and Locke, this year has further cemented Hardy’s ability to not just lead a film but be it’s shining light. The Drop allows him to project much of his performance inwards to the more outward musing of Locke but it’s all the more scintillating as a result.
Like its central performance The Drop is a wonderfully dark and understated piece of cinema wherein the means more than justify the end.