The Drop (2014)
Rated R for some strong violence and pervasive language
Every year, it seems, the "dump months" of late August and September produce at least one very good adult-oriented drama that stands out from the fiery summer action movies that came in the months before it. This year, that film is The Drop, and while it's not as good as last year's superb thriller Prisoners, it's still a very solid, if slow, movie that takes a derivative "New York crime movie" premise and elevates it with great performances and writing.
The plot revolves around Brooklyn's criminal organizations designating a random bar each night to serve as a drop-off point for money. Tonight, Marv's Bar, run by Marv (James Gandolfini) and his cousin/bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), is that bar. Unfortunately, they get robbed, and five thousand dollars worth of Mob money is lost. Now, they have to find that money lest a bunch of Chechen gangsters take their revenge on them for losing it. Meanwhile, on his way home, Bob finds a wounded, abused pitbull puppy dumped in a garbage can. He rescues it and starts raising it himself, naming it Rocco (after St. Rocco, the patron saint of dogs) and striking up a friendship with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), the woman whose garbage the dog was dumped in -- and finding himself being followed by Eric Deeds, a loutish man with a history of mental problems who claims to be the dog's owner. These two stories, seemingly unrelated, soon reveal themselves to be far more connected than they look.
What helps The Drop stand out from the many lesser gritty crime dramas out there trying to ape The Town and Gone Baby Gone (wow, ten years ago, who'd have thought Ben Affleck would be one of the best directors working today?) is its smart writing and complicated characters played by excellent actors. Based on a short story by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the aforementioned Gone Baby Gone), this film moves very slowly, feeling substantially longer than its 106-minute run time would suggest. This is both the film's greatest strength and the source of the only real problem I had with it. It takes a very long time building its world and its characters, moving very slowly and being filled with scenes where seemingly nothing is happening, only serving to give new insight on the characters. If you like your films to have plots that advance forward in every scene, this is not for you. It is very deliberately paced, and it works to build its world and give it texture even at the expense of excitement. When the twists and turns start coming in and the layers of what's happening are peeled away, it lets what's happening sink in and hit you, rather than rushing ahead with it.
Helping along is a great cast of veteran character actors. The elephant in the room, of course, is James Gandolfini in what turned out to be his last film before his untimely death. Rest assured, Gandolfini did not go out embarrassing himself like Orson Welles or Marlon Brando did -- he may be playing a Tony Soprano-type again, with his moral shadiness and his relationship with his sister, but he always did that well. Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, meanwhile, were both good enough that I was able to overlook their shaky New York accents and buy into them and their relationship, united by their shared love of Rocco and... well, to say any more would probably spoil things. And to be honest, I can't even knock Rapace's accent that much; her Swedishisms (inadvertently) lent another layer to her character, making it seem like Nadia was the latest arrival to the great City of Immigrants.
And any dog lovers reading this: you will get up and cheer at one line late in the film. When you hear it, you will know precisely which one it is.
Score: 4 out of 5
Slow but involving, The Drop is a very good film if you can go without constant excitement in your movies. Doubly so if you own a dog.