Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Film Review: The Drop (2014)

© 20th Century Fox | Source: The Artery
USA; 106 min.; crime, drama, neo-noir
Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Writing: Dennis Lehane, after his short story “Animal Rescue”
Cinematography: Nicolas Karakatsanis
Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Michael Aronov, Morgan Spector, Ann Dowd, Michael Esper, James Frecheville

“That is life. That's what it is. People like me coming along when you're not looking.”  -- Eric Deeds

There are many films out there showing a heist gone wrong, but only few manage to deliver such a fresh and unique feeling like Michaël R. Roskam’s The Drop. Based on a short story by crime aficionado Dennis Lehane – writer of novels such as Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone or Shutter Island – this film is a neo-noir gem in which genres like crime thriller, family drama and rom com unite with ease.

The story is unfolded in three narrative threads: There are Bob (Tom Hardy) and his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) who run a bar belonging to the Chechen mob. When, one night, the bar is robbed by two masked men, Bob and Marv are under pressure to retrieve the money. Then there’s Nadia (Noomi Rapace) in whose waste bin Bob finds a hurt pit bull puppy. Nadia and Bob befriend each other while taking care of the dog, and soon find themselves up against Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), a known psychopath and owner of the puppy he now wants back. And, finally, there’s Detective Torres (John Ortiz) who investigates not only the bar robbery but also the disappearance of a young man who is said to have been murdered by Deeds almost ten years ago.

The outline seems to indicate that we’re directly headed into 106 minutes of full-on mobster bloodshed and insanity. However, actual violence is not at the centre of The Drop. There are, of course, moments of brutality – but they’re short and only mildly graphic. Roskam’s film relies much more on character development and a thick, intense atmosphere – and this is where the genre mix takes its full effect. Setting Bob’s sweet, blossoming relationship with Nadia and his growing affection for the little puppy up against his Chechen trouble and the sadistic Eric Deeds causes a fair amount of unease. People who have the tendency to fear for the pet whenever they watch a horror movie or thriller – like me – will probably remain on the edge of their seats throughout most of the film. But even without the cute puppy in distress at the centre of things, The Drop succeeds in portraying how sweetness and decency are corrupted in a world ruled by power struggles, revenge and sheer madness.

For me, Bob certainly is one of the most intriguing cinematic characters in recent years, and Tom Hardy plays him to perfection. As the butt of the film’s inherent dog metaphor, Bob functions as the human counterpart to the little combat dog: he’s sweet-natured, open-minded, unassuming and protective of the ones he holds dear. And yet there’s something unsettling about him when we see how naturally he navigates through the challenges his crime-ridden neighbourhood throws at him, how easy it is for him to adapt to his surroundings. Hardy gives the character quirky features without ridiculing him, an innate strength without turning him into an alpha male and a sadness without having him appear whiney. His Bob is an intriguing, subtle take on the lonesome noir hero figure.

The film features a splendid cast in general. Noomi Rapace delivers a heartfelt performance as a woman who has pulled herself out of emotional misery, and has wonderful chemistry with Hardy. The late James Gandolfini, in his final performance, plays his established ruthless gangster role, but his present discontent and longing for better days gone by give him a human twist. Matthias Schoenaerts certainly is an actor to look out for. He gives Eric a good amount of unpredictability and makes him instantly menacing. John Ortiz as the persistent cop is solid, even though his plot appears a bit like mere filler material until things come full circle in the finale.

Those who are familiar with Lehane’s oeuvre know that the writer enjoys a good twist. The Drop also succeeds in connecting all the loose threads to a rather unexpected revelation. If I would have to come up with some kind of beef I could have with the film, though, it’s probably that things aren’t as effective on a second viewing. The moment I knew when and in what way tensions were going to relieve themselves, the atmosphere was no longer as haunting as it was during my first viewing experience and, naturally, the twist no longer comes unexpectedly.

Still, it pays off to (re)visit The Drop since it’s not only about plot development or grand twists at the end. The film presents us with thoroughly written and acted characters, and it’s fun to see them form and deconstruct their mutual relationships. Additionally, there’s an intriguing layer of social criticism as well as an exciting exploration of human nature. Throw in an unconventional yet fitting mix of generic tones and a cute puppy, and you’re certain to have created a crime drama that definitely shouldn’t be dropped.


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