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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Drop

Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and the writer of Shutter Island definitely step this mob movie up a notch.
By Tom Clift
November 17, 2014
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By Tom Clift
November 17, 2014
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There's an unshakable sense of menace throughout the low-key mob movie The Drop that lifts it above the outward cliches of its story. Then again, that's hardly surprising, given it was written by Dennis Lehane. The American crime novelist responsible for Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone — books whose subsequent film adaptations rank amongst the best big-screen potboilers of the past 20 years — Lehane's mastery of the blue-collar crime genre is second to none. And, while his screenplay for The Drop doesn't quite reach the same impressive heights, it's a thoroughly compelling drama all the same.

The story takes place, as Lehane's stories tend to do, in a working class microcosm in the north-east US. In this case it's Cousin Marv's bar, a grimy Brooklyn watering hole run by a bitter old barkeep whose name sits on the sign above the door. In reality, however, the bar hasn't belonged to Marv (the late great James Gandolfini) since he was muscled out by the Chechen mafia, who now use it as one of several collection points — or "drop bars" — for all of their ill-gotten cash.

When the bar is robbed by a pair of desperate stickup men, Marv and his unflappable bartender Bob (Tom Hardy) are tasked with recovering the money. At the same time, Bob find himself caught up in the life of local waitress Nadia (Noomi Rapace) after rescuing a wounded dog left abandoned in her front yard. What Bob doesn't count on is the attention of Nadia's unhinged ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), a local crim who, if rumours can be trusted, has a habit of making people disappear. How the storylines intertwine... well, that would be telling.

Belgian director Michael R. Roskam is a skilled hand behind the camera, but it's easier to identify the influence of Lehane: the decaying urban setting, the unspoken threats of violence, the characters all speaking in thick, working class drawls. So too can you locate the DNA of earlier crime pics. Bob's frequent trips to a local Catholic church call to mind Scorsese's prototypical gangster movie Mean Streets; the theft of mob money, meanwhile, was the catalyst in the recent Andrew Dominik joint Killing Them Softly.

As such, The Drop can at times feel a little familiar. But the strength of Lehane's screenplay lies in the information he keeps obscured. His characters' pasts remain shrouded in mystery, leaving you constantly unsure of how far they're willing to go. The star of Roskam's previous film Bullhead, Schoenaerts radiates danger in every scene. Likewise Gandolfini, whose portrayal of a washed-up tough guy reminds us just how big a talent the actor was.

It's Hardy, however, who really steals the show. At first, his character strikes us as a gentle giant; a nice guy caught up in a situation he can't control. But as the movie goes on, we're forced to look again. There's something deeply unsettling about the way Bob never seems phased, even as his situation spirals further out of control. As always, that's the appeal of Lehane's writing. Things are never quite what they appear.

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