September has recently for the past few years been the breeding grounds for some great crime thriller/dramas. 2010 saw the evidence of Ben Affleck’s resurgence in the near masterpiece “The Town”. 2011 saw the critical favorite Ryan Gosling’s vehicle “Drive” and 2012 gave us the highly entertaining yet emotional charged “End of Watch”. While last year we got the dark and disturbing “Prisoners.” We arrive back into September for a new year and once again Hollywood has handed us their latest crime drama “The Drop”. Based off a Denis Lehane short story and starring James Gandolfini in his final role (untimely due to his untimely death) and Tom Hardy, “The Drop” has all the right ingredients to be not just a good film but a great film. Yet under the careful direction by director Michaël R. Roskam and well paced script from Dennis Lehane himself, “The Drop” manages to succeed our wildest expectations in this well performed, dark and somber, near masterpiece. It may share similar themes with other contemporaries of its genre but it never falls into the categories of the clichéd or derivative.
After a robbery of their bar, Cousins Bob Saginowski and Marv find themselves facing investigations from the police and pressures from the owners of the bar, the mob. While they do their best to handle those pressures, the past seems to be cropping up again for the both of them. Marv out of bitterness seems to make a few desperate moves to regain the status he once had and gain a better life. Meanwhile Bob comes across a beaten dog and decides to take it in with the help of his new found friend. Yet his new friend has an unnatural connection to the dog’s previous owner, while a murder from the past seems to be resurfacing in the neighborhood yet a again.
The thing you’ll notice first above all others is the atmosphere that director Michaël R. Roskam and cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis have created. The colors are darken and the picture is dreary, giving the film it’s dark and somber tone that works so well. Setting the story in the winter adds to this tone, since it’s the time of year where everything is dead and has months to go before it blossoms. It gives the picture a certain type of moodiness that wouldn’t be present had the film taken place in the summer.
One of the things that Roskam and Lehane understand that the environment in which you set the story can be become a character onto itself. We can look at a classic film such as “Rocky” where the streets of Philadelphia are a character, with the people who live there, the way it looks, and the way Rocky walks around observing everything around him, it made a big impact on the film as a whole that was lost in later “Rocky” films when he moved away. Lehane understands building true to life and engrossing environment as he has demonstrated in the past with “Gone Baby Gone”. In “The Drop” even though this is a different place than his native home in Massachusetts, Lehane (along with Director Roskam) creates a real, living and vibrant place that feels like a neighborhood you could live in. It’s inviting as it is mysterious. Brooklyn has been presented many times on film yet this time around it feels very unique and special.
The film’s screenplay moves at a very deliberate pace. It starts off slow and takes it’s time building all of its characters with moments that aren’t necessarily vital to the story at large but important to crafting who the characters are and helps us get inside their heads. With passing time however, this careful and well verse script slowly ramps up the tension as more and more pieces of the puzzle is revealed to the audience. It all comes together in a climatic third act that is a result of all the slow character and story development. I would say the film does end rather abruptly after it’s finale and is vague on certain details but that doesn’t take away from just how methodical and well thought out the rest of the script actually is.
Anchoring it’s setting and it’s story is a pair of Oscar worthy performances. Tom Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a man who would rather forget the past and live his life in the background of others. He is a kind man but also has the intensity of a caged animal. Hardy plays the role wonderfully restrained and focused. In a genre where we are used to seeing explosive tempered characters, it’s refreshing to see a character in the world he is involved in so restrained and deals more in subtly.
Keeping true to the storytelling maxim “Show don’t tell.” There is a scene you briefly see in the trailer (and I won’t go into too many details in trying not to give anything away) where someone threatens everything Bob loves, and he doesn’t say much but the camera is locked on Hardy’s face as you see the muscles lock up and the expression in his eye changed from a regular everyday guy to someone with some much rage and anger just locked up that is ready to explode. He doesn’t have to say a word, we get what is going on in his head from just that look. This is one of Hardy’s best performances and creates (what should be) a memorable character.
It’s unfortunate that “Sopranos” star James Gandolfini passed away just before this film’s completion, this demonstrates he still had many great performances ahead of him. Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, the former owner of his bar (now owned by the Mob) and was someone who never got over that. He is also someone who is more restrained but has moments that show his explosive potential for anger and temper. Gandolfini gives a powerful crescendo and final bow in what is his final performance.
There are so many other great things about this feature that I didn’t already mention (Noomi Rapace, and Matthias Schoenaerts performances being a few of those things). It’s still not quite Oscar season yet (it doesn’t really kick off till October) but here is another example of an Oscar worthy film (recently there was “Boyhood”) that might have come out too early to result in any nominations. Hopefully I am wrong but there will be some tough competition coming up to compete with this near masterpiece. Everyone involved in this film ought to be proud.