The Drop

Posted on September 11, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Author Dennis Lehane writes about a world of desperation, fear, and damaged people inflicting further damage. His novels have been filmed as “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone.” And now his short story, “Animal Rescue,” has been turned into “The Drop,” about a “drop bar,” a dingy place with dingy regulars, a bitter former owner still resentful of the thugs who took it over, a soft-hearted bartender and the dog he rescues from a garbage can, and lots of cash, dropped at the bar by racketeers to be picked up by bigger, tougher, racketeers. You know what that means: colorful, highly euphemistic dialog said by top-notch actors doing their best to play hard, hard men. Very little is said in this world but a lot is understood.

Fortunately, here that means we get James Gandolfini in a beautifully nuanced performance that makes us miss him even more sharply. He plays “Cousin Marv,” whose name is still on the bar, but no longer on the deed. Now he’s just the manager, and he quietly but meaningfully tells Bob (Tom Hardy), the bartender, to take down the Christmas decorations (“It’s December 27th!”) and stop running a tab for the flowsy barfly at the end of the counter. Oh, and no more rounds for the boys at the bar, even though they are observing the 10th anniversary of a friend’s death. We will learn later that there is more significance to the last two items than losing the revenue on a few drinks.

Copyright 2014 Fox Searchlight
Copyright 2014 Fox Searchlight

On his way home, Bob hears a noise in a neighbor’s garbage can. It is a badly injured puppy. The wary neighbor is Nadia (Noomi Rapace), who insists on taking a picture of Bob’s driver’s license on her cell phone and sending it to four friends before she will even talk to him about the puppy. She helps him clean it up and reluctantly agrees to care for it for a couple of days so he can decide what to do. He adopts the puppy and names it Rocco. And she offers to care for the puppy while he is at work to make some extra money.

For a moment, things are looking up for the lonely Bob. But not for Cousin Marv’s or for Cousin Marv. Marv and Bob are held up at gunpoint by two guys in masks who may not be entirely unknown to them. The owners are tough Chechen gangsters who expect them to get the money back and who give them a glimpse of some guys they are in the middle of torturing just to make sure the message is received. And Cousin Marv’s is set to be the drop bar for the biggest betting night of the year, the Super Bowl. A cop (John Ortiz of “Silver Linings Playbook”) is nosing around. And there is pressure on Bob as well. A very unstable guy in the neighborhood, reputed to have killed a guy, says he is Rocco’s owner and he may have some feelings of ownership toward Nadia as well. Also, there is a body part formerly belonging to someone who was formerly alive, and it will need to be disposed of.

The storyline is all right, but what matters here is the mood, and that is excellent, with Gandolfini, as always, a master class in acting. There are so many layers to his performance, whether he is answering his sister’s question about dinner or refusing to look inside a bag that clearly cannot contain any good news. His expression in his very last scene of the film is particularly compelling.

Hardy’s quiet power is beautifully restrained. Ann Dowd as Marv’s wistful sister and Matthias Schoenaerts as Eric, Rocco’s volatile former owner are also very good. In some ways, Eric is the most revealing character in the story. Asked what he wants, he isn’t sure, except that he doesn’t want Bob to think he has anything over on him. People want money, of course, and power, and to be left alone. But what drives them really nuts is the fear that someone has more than they do and there’s nothing they can do about it.

Parents should know that this plot concerns various crimes and attempted crimes including extortion, robbery, torture, and murder, with many characters injured and killed, as well as some graphic and disturbing images, drinking, smoking, and constant strong language.

Family discussion: The original title of the story this film was based on is “Animal Rescue.” Would that have been more appropriate for the film? Why did Bob stay at the bar?

If you like this, try: “Killing Them Softly” and “Get Shorty,” both featuring James Gandolfini

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Based on a book Crime Drama Thriller
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