The Drop (2014)

If you’ve heard of The Drop and plan to see it, it’s probably for one of two people. The first is James Gandolfini, who makes his final film appearance in this film. He plays the boss of a bar that becomes the center of money drops, and gets to do a typical crime drama role. The second is Dennis Lehane, the man who wrote Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island — the novels, anyway. This is the first time he’s adapted his own work for a film. If these two draws aren’t enough, you’ve likely not heard of The Drop, and probably won’t seek it out unless you’re a big fan of crime dramas. Thankfully, it’s good enough that I’d recommend it anyway.

The lead is Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a bartender working under Cousin Marv (Gandolfini). The bar is robbed, $5,000 is lost, and some mobsters want the money back. Oh, and there’s going to be a bigger drop of money — they pick random bars each time to keep the police off their track, bars at which large amounts of money from various gangster sectors are collected for the big boss — right on SuperBowl Sunday. The bar is right in the middle of some pretty big criminal activity.

Meanwhile, Bob rescues an abused dog and with the help of a reclusive woman, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), nurses it back to health and winds up keeping it. But then the legal owner of the dog wants it back. He may or may not be dangerous, and may or may not be linked to the earlier robbery, or the other criminals. It all spirals and connects by the end, and it’s actually quite the interesting plot, even if the plot is relegated to a supporting role. It’s nothing special — it feels like many other crime dramas — but it certainly gets the job done and will hold your attention for basically its entire running time.

The Drop has a pretty perverse sense of humor. There are moments where you have to pause and snicker at some of the things that it says and does — things that almost come out of nowhere. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s far funnier over its duration than you’d probably expect.

Its leading character is also the nicest guy in the whole world — at least, in the film’s world — and that, in combination with the humor, is done for a purpose. It makes the few moments of violence even more shocking. Bob is a kind, soft-spoken man who lives in a world of criminals. The film’s tone is pretty light. And then — bang! — someone’s been shot clean through the head, and we, along with some of the film’s characters, are shocked. It’s an effective technique. You know that bursts of violence are possible, but you never know when they are, so you’re always in a state of suspense. And with the film’s low-key demeanor, when they finally happen, they genuinely affect you.

There isn’t quite enough here to fill the 106 minutes for which The Drop runs. The film was based on Lehane’s short story “Animal Rescue,” and it just doesn’t quite have enough ideas or plot to fill feature-length time. Thankfully, the plot winds up being one of the least important aspects of the film. The setting becomes its own character, the humans are all deep and have interesting conversations with one another, and there’s also a cute little dog who hangs around for a good number of scenes.

You’ll be drawn in by the acting, too. Tom Hardy is not the first person I would think of when casting someone from New York, but you’d never know that he’s not native given the job he does nailing the dialogue and accent. He transforms himself into a mild-mannered man from the Bronx. James Gandolfini easily transfers himself back into crime-drama mode. Noomi Rapace is mostly underused as the love interest, but she gets some good scenes and she and Hardy have strong chemistry.

The Drop is a movie that sets a strong stage, gives us the most basic of a plot, and then lets its characters have at it. They go about their business, we follow them, it all seems tense but otherwise pretty low-key, and then the violence hits and we’re all left shocked. That’s the formula it uses and it does it well. It’s got some great acting, strong writing, and it’s very entertaining for most of its running time, even if it doesn’t have quite enough content for a movie running over 100 minutes.

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