The Drop

The Drop

Postby CAP » Wed Dec 24, 2014 12:53 pm

This is not bad, a modest but effective gangland thriller, certainly the best thing I’ve seen Tom Hardy in, although I haven’t seen a lot of his TV work. I give it 6. Set in Brooklyn, NY, it has a Belgian director (Michaël R. Roskam), a British male lead (Hardy), a Swedish female lead (Noomi Rapace), a Belgian supporting villain (Matthias Schoenaerts) and James Gandolfini in a sub-Tony Soprano swansong. But nothing feels strained or out-of-place to me. What does that say about Hollywood these days? What does that say about me? It’s always been a melting pot, I suppose. Anyway Hardy seems to take his inspiration from Brando in On the Waterfront, the permanently furrowed brow, narrowed eyes, stumbling answers. He plays Bob Saginowski; a brooding bartender at a neighbourhood bar, Cousin Marv’s, and initially the performance seems a bit one-note but eventually that deliberation becomes a sly defence and ultimately his trump card.

The story is by Dennis Lehane (also an executive producer and previously author of Mystic River and Shutter Island to mention only features). The story is built around the way gangs use such local bars as ‘drops’ where cash is deposited discreetly from all sorts of crimes, to be collected later by organisers. It’s all in brown paper packages or sealed envelopes, unobtrusively dropped in a concealed slot in the bar top, covered by a towel. The amounts can run into the millions though and bars are chosen and changed unpredictably, to avoid suspicion and robberies. Basically it’s part of protection rackets. Fans of The Sopranos will be familiar with the milieu, but in this case the gangsters are Chechen. The bar is owned, in name at least by Mickey (Gandolfini) and the plot mainly tracks his attempt to organise a stick-up and steal the drop when it is richest. The aging Mickey is a former gang leader himself and resents his turf being taken over by the Chechens but also anticipates that he will be the prime suspect of such a well-timed hit. So he firstly stages a trial run, hiring two young hoods – or hoodies really - to stick up the place on a relatively quiet night for a modest amount, to make it look like an outside job. It has to be reported to the police of course, and the amounts must not look too suspicious, but it is really setting up a more rewarding return appearance. But for some reason Bob notices that one of the masked hoods is wearing a wristwatch that has stopped – I forget the hour, but something like twenty past six. It’s a curious detail and unlike Bob to speak up about something like this, but it adds a bit more veracity to the story for the police and for the Chechens, who insist Mickey reimburse them within a deadline. They are a ruthless bunch who torture and murder rivals, so the stakes are high. They take note of Bob’s clue but it’s not clear that they believe him.

However when a bin liner is affixed to the back fence to Cousin Marv’s, containing the incriminating wristwatch, still on its arm, together with the stolen amount, the message seems to be that the Chechens are a very efficient recovery crew and they most assuredly are paying attention. It puts a spanner in Mickey’s larger plans, obviously, in that his stick-up team is now literally short-handed. There is also a sub-plot running to all this in which Bob happens to find a badly injured pit-bull pup dumped in a garbage bin, while walking home one night, and thereby meets Nadia (Rapace), the owner of the bin. Nadia is also single and guarded about her past. He persuades her to attend to the dog and to keep it for a few days, while he decides if he should take possession. Here we witness Bob’s extreme wariness about any sort of personal commitment. Is he a bit thick or what? "Cop the babe Bob! The babe!" we silently urge him. The dog is a ‘major responsibility’ he must consider carefully. Or is it simply a means of drawing out his acquaintance with Nadia? He acts dumb, but the acting sort of shows, as noted. Heh heh heh. Nadia too is deeply wary of being drawn into an involvement, but reluctantly goes along with him over the dog. Tentatively, they creep toward a friendship. Rapace is just as good as Hardy, with a lot less to work with. Her looks could easily pass for Hispanic, appropriate for the neighbourhood and I kept trying to remember where I’d seen her before. Maybe it was in the Millennium or The Girl With... series, which I never saw much of, actually. Maybe she’ll be in the third series of The Bridge! That would be awesome. She definitely has a presence, a sort of alertness even when downplaying things that gives the character a strange watchability.

Anyway as Bob and Nadia get to know one another over the ensuing weeks, the two plot threads deftly intertwine. It turns out the dog was dumped by her ex-boyfriend, Eric Deeds (Schoenaerts) a notorious local psycho and would-be gangster. Schoenaerts is good at the slightly vacuous and unpredictable outsider. I previously admired him in Rust and Bone. Mickey’s stick-up team has obviously been halved and the remainder is uninterested in a return performance, in spite of the prospect of a far greater return. Disappointed, Mickey kills the remaining hoodie, by backing over him several times in a deserted alley. He knew too much. Mickey learns of Deeds’ stalking of Bob and Nadia (from Bob) knows of his local reputation as aspirant hard man and sees a possible replacement. This time Mickey intends to be absent from the bar – feigning illness - so that the blame will fall squarely on Bob. Bob smells a rat, knowing the auspicious occasion (a megadrop) and goes to see him at home, making clear that he now suspects Mickey of organising the stick-up and possibly setting up a return performance (ostensibly because no-one will be expecting the same bar to get hit again so soon). Suddenly Bob doesn’t seem so stumbling and dumb. Actually it turns out Bob used to be in Mickey’s gang and knows enough about gangland code to know they could both get whacked for this kind of betrayal. Bob’s plodding exterior conceals a much more agile interior. Mickey sticks to his story that he is ill and Bob prepares for another stick-up – this time bringing his own revolver.

Elsewhere, the creepy Deeds kidnaps Nadia, mainly because he is jealous of her friendship with Bob, but also because he intends to use her as a hostage when he robs the bar. They turn up near closing time. Bob spots them and is ready. The bar closes, the crowd clears and Deeds makes his move, timed to the safe’s programmed window of access at around 2.00am (implicitly flagging an inside job, of course). He thinks he has the drop on Bob but he is wrong. Bob has the drop on him. He shoots Deeds in the throat, point blank, twice. Nadia actually takes it quite well, but by this point she is aware of Bob’s past and the bar’s dubious legal standing and generally she’s quite supportive under the circumstances. What a brick! Mickey meantime is waiting in his car in a nearby alley for Deeds to make their getaway. Unfortunately Bob has also anticipated that or else the mob were tailing Mickey anyway because someone walks up beside his car and Mickey instantly knows what he’s in for – again a couple of shots point blank. The one thing criminals can’t stand is crime against them.

Next thing we know the full contingent of Chechens are cleaning up the bar and disposing of the body for Bob, which isn’t really explained but presumably Bob’s tip off has endeared him to the organisation, enhanced his perceived loyalty or something. They see him as inheriting the bar and its tidy line in drops. I suppose this is a ‘happily ever after’ ending by contemporary standards, if we ignore the fact that he shot Deeds pre-emptively in self-defence, if there is such a thing. Anyway he gets the dog and the girl and life is good for Bob, at least as good as it can be in a skuzzy corner of Brooklyn. Roskam’s direction is good, a discreet eye for soft focus or depth of field developments, an understated approach to the story. The movie got rubbished a bit by Paul Mac Innes in the Guardian but that’s because Mac Innes is a rubbish critic. :P
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