Thursday, September 11, 2014
Review: "The Drop"
"The Drop" is an intriguing, atypical movie. It starts out with a lot of disparate characters and story elements, some of them related, much of it not. Over time they gradually float towards each other, each piece locking into place in a way that might not have seemed obvious at first.
The experience of watching it is like stumbling upon a disassembled pocket watch, and then witnessing the little gears and springs drag themselves, with almost gravitational pull, into a cohesive whole again. The actual process of putting itself back together can be a bit tedious at times, but at some point everything clicks together.
This is another film based on the writings of Dennis Lehane, who also penned the screenplay. Movies based on his work have been up ("Gone Baby Gone"), down ("Shutter Island") and vastly overhyped ("Mystic River"). Here is a film that seems to contain the Lehane mythos boiled down to its inky essence. The story happens almost entirely inside one seedy bar, and the few frozen city blocks around it.
Tom Hardy plays Bob Saganowsky, who sloshes drinks at Cousin Marv's Bar. Bob speaks in a clinched little croak, almost whiny; he isn't terribly bright and is passive almost to the point of transparency. There are rough types who come into the bar, and some try to get a rise out of Bob, but they leave unsatisfied, because it's like kicking a sweet puppy who only comes back for more.
He is, in short, a mook.
Cousin Marv is mostly a figurehead these days, an aging hulk who barely moves from his corner table. His name's on the bar, and he used to run a little action on the side -- he was, he says, somebody who made people sit up when he walked in. But he got pushed by some tougher Chechen mobsters, and flinched, and now it's their bar and he just runs it.
James Gandolfini could play controlled rage better than just about anybody, so Marv is a fitting final screen role for him.
The title comes from the process of picking one bar at random to be the place where all the gambling and other dirty money winds up for the night -- "the safe for the entire city." It soon becomes clear that somebody's looking to hit Marv's the night it's the drop, and Bob gets caught up in the tide of events.
One night Bob is walking home from work and comes across a bloodied puppy dumped in a trash can. The woman who lives there, a waitress named Nadia (Noomi Rapace), helps him patch the dog up, but insists Bob adopt him as his own. He blanches at first, but finally takes on the little pitbull, whom he dubs Rocco. This is, for him, a major addition to his tiny universe, which essentially consists of just the bar and keeping up his dead parents' tidy brownstone.
Accepting the responsibility of the dog changes something in Bob ... or does it? Hardy's performance is one poker face behind another, so we're never quite sure what's going on the other side of that lunkhead mien. Dribs and drabs of information leak out to suggest there's more there. He and Nadia start seeing more of each other, hesitatingly -- it's like two wounded animals sniffing the other's wounds.
Other characters' orbits intersect with that of the bar. There's a perpetually smiling police detective (John Ortiz) who sees Bob at the same church every morning, and wonders why he never takes communion. He starts investigating a stick-up at the bar, and then noses into old crimes that have become part of the neighborhood lore.
There's Eric Deeds (an imposing Matthias Schoenaerts), a hustler with a past connected to Nadia. He casts a baleful eye at Bob for seemingly mysterious reasons, stopping by the bar or his house, claiming Rocco is actually his dog, and dropping idle threats. (Somehow, he makes an umbrella seem weapon-like.)
And then we have the Chechen boss, Chovka, chillingly played by Michael Aronov. He expects Marv and Bob to recover the money stolen during the robbery. You can see the wheels turn in Bob's head, slowly, and in Marv's head, slightly less slowly -- if they could find the money, wouldn't that imply they were in on the job?
Director Michaël R. Roskam takes his time -- too much, really -- building up the suspense, but the plot of "The Drop" eventually gets there.