The Drop review

A crime thriller starring Tom Hardy and a scene-stealing puppy. What more could you want?

It’s not without reason that The Drop has so quickly become known as “that movie with Tom Hardy and the puppy.” Based on screenwriter Dennis Lehane’s own short story Animal Rescue, the blue collar crime drama aspect of the film is somewhat overshadowed by the metaphors and sweetness of the dog adoption sub-plot.

Overall though, it’s still about Hardy as Bob Saginowski, a nice guy in a rough neighbourhood, who tends a friendly local bar owned by his elder cousin Marv (James Gandolfini). But after hours, Cousin Marv’s Bar is a drop bar, one of a number of Brooklyn bars that serves as a place of safekeeping for the Chechen mob’s ill-gotten funds.

When a pair of young chancers hold up Bob and Marv at closing time one night and only make off with the contents of the till, the bar comes under greater scrutiny from its crime bosses and from a perceptive detective, Torres, (John Ortiz) who recognises Bob from church.

Around the same time, Bob finds the aforementioned puppy, battered and abandoned in a rubbish bin outside Nadia’s (Noomi Rapace) house. The two strike up a firm friendship, but when Nadia’s violent ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts) shows up to reclaim the dog, the seemingly separate developments in Bob’s life threaten to coincide in catastrophe.

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We wouldn’t like to tell you any more than that, but you should probably know what to expect from a film plotted by Dennis Lehane. Having lent stories to film adaptations such as Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island, this one pirouettes through a number of plot twists in a similar fashion before the credits roll, but it’s still a simpler affair than any of those movies.

It’s also the English language début feature for Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam, who made waves with Bullhead a couple of years back and doesn’t bring any frills especially this time around. This only heightens the self-contained, nigh-on claustrophobic feel of the film, which is more solidly built upon the shoulders of its leading man.

Contrary to tough guys like Bane or Bronson, Bob is an understated character from Hardy, more comparable to Sylvester Stallone at either end of the Rocky series. In the 1976 film, he falls in with a criminal element because that is the best opportunity available to someone of his limited capabilities, and by the time of the 2006 capper, he’s come through world-beating bouts, back around to that original lovable lunk mode – funnily enough, he even rescues a dog, just like Bob does.

That’s the kind of character that Hardy plays here, but he proves just as compelling in his calm as in the raging outbursts of some of his previous roles. It’s far closer to the riveting stillness of his turns in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Lawless and Hardy’s is comfortably the best performance in the film.

In direct contrast to Bob is Schoenaerts’s Eric, who’s made a big impression as a more brutish and European Ryan Gosling type in foreign films from Roskam’s Bullhead to Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone over recent years. Working in English here, he’s hugely intimidating, physically towering over Hardy and generally putting up a very good show of being the scariest bastard in town.

Also of note, the film marks the final big screen performance by James Gandolfini as Marv. This is more in line with his turn as Tony Soprano than with the type-breaking roles in indie fare like Enough Said and Not Fade Away, but the film is enervated, even in its own low register, every time Hardy and Gandolfini share the screen. As with so many other actors we’ve lost in recent years, it’s hard to think that even though we’ll always have the body of work he created, there are no more of his performances left in front of us.

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With such a straightforward story, the film sometimes seems to wheeze under its own symbolic weight (what does Rocco the puppy really represent?) and utterly wastes Rapace as the film’s only female character. There’s also an element of double-crossing and chicanery that would suggest there’s no longer any honour in the dirty work in process here, without going far enough to show that it was ever all that cousin Marv cracked it up to be.

As strong as the cast are, (in particular Hardy and Gandolfini) the film is maybe too un-showy for its own good, and the script too glancing and ambivalent to really mark it apart, except for the eminently meme-able sight of a versatile actor palling around with an adorable, symbolically-heavy boxer dog.

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3 out of 5