The Drop: Cute is Serious Business

By Michelle Donnelly · September 15, 2014

What do you get when you cross Chechen mobsters with former Brooklyn tough guys and a pit bull puppy? An accomplished novelist’s first foray into writing for the big screen, apparently.

Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) lives a simple existence as a bartender in Brooklyn and that’s just how he wants it. A Catholic boy who attends mass regularly, he appears to be a man who lives by a moral code. Brooklyn bred and working at Cousin Marv’s with his real life cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), he is someone we assume has not often ventured far from his neighborhood. On his way home from work one evening, he comes across an abused dog abandoned in a trash can in front of Nadia’s (Noomi Rapace) house. Initially reluctant, Bob then agrees to take the dog. Soon after, Cousin Marv’s is robbed at gunpoint. Inconvenient for Marv is the fact that the bar no longer belongs to him, but rather is owned by Chechen mobsters and the money stolen will need to be repaid.

The Drop is based on the short story “Animal Rescue” written by Dennis Lehane. Well known for his novels Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River, and Shutter Island being made into movies, Lehane took over screenwriting responsibilities for the film. Lehane’s success here is his development of rich characters. The weakness of the screenplay, though, is that its use of a puppy as a plot device is confusing. In the short story the dog serves a clearer purpose, as Bob’s lonely existence is more of a central theme. In The Drop unfortunately, it is more of an afterthought.

Director Michael Roskam, a relative new comer who received great acclaim for his 2011 film Bullhead gets top-notch performances from his cast. Heartbreakingly, this was James Gandolfini’s last film. To his credit, his portrayal as Cousin Marv is spot on. Marv pines for his former glory as a once important tough guy. He misses the days when people feared him, when he could get things done, when no one dared sit at ‘his’ stool in ‘his’ bar. It is this sentimentality and his misdirected sense of needing to reclaim what was once his that leads him astray. Gandolfini expertly portrays Marv with a hint of regret, a hint of sadness, someone who has taken a hit to his self-esteem and who is taking a backward look at his once charmed life. Tom Hardy as Bob Saginowski is understated and humble. He is a man that no one would care to bother. Hardy’s versatility here is evident. He is an actor that can go from super villain in The Dark Knight Rises to a simple, average, unassuming man who may or may not be on the verge of being mentally deficient.

In the end, The Drop is an entertaining movie, but one that would have benefited by being a little more of “The Sopranos” and a little less of 101 Dalmatians. There are points in the film that make it feel as if two plots have been mashed together somewhat haphazardly with flimsy ties written in to connect them. Hardy’s performance though, grounds what could have ended as a mockery that instead ends up as a suspenseful tale of the mob’s use of bar drops to move illegal money around. And if anything, the dog, on its own, is cute enough to carry the movie.