Dennis Lehane’s books have yielded some terrific crime dramas set in Boston, from Mystic River to Gone Baby Gone, so it’s more than a little strange to consider that for The Drop, Lehane’s first screenplay, he adapted his short story “Animal Rescue” but traded in Dorchester for the mean streets of Brooklyn.
Why he made the change is unclear, but the modified setting is doubly interesting given that The Drop still feels very much like a Boston drama despite a few explicit references to the Big Apple. There’s little by way of scale on display, unusual for a film set in sprawling NYC, and director Michaël R. Roskam (coming off Bullhead, an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film) infuses many shots with a chilly melancholy and pervasive foreboding that we’ve come to associate with good old Beantown (or at least Hollywood’s impression of the city – any resident will tell you that it’s not as bad as all that).
Regardless, The Drop is a film of uncommon tautness, one that uses its backdrop and characters equally to create a suspenseful smolder, a slowly boiling atmosphere of darkness and danger. It drops us into a world filled with frightening characters who live by an even more frightening code of ethics – if you’re not a hammer in this life, then there’s no alternative other than to be the nail. Take what’s yours from those you can conquer, until you encounter someone strong enough to take those spoils for themselves. And so on. Lehane is a master of world-building, and he imparts this cutthroat ethos with startling speed. Even when The Drop simmers, tense conversations stopping short of boiling over into violence, it feels as explosive as a feral tiger backed into a corner.
That volatile flavor is present not only in the film as a whole but also in protagonist Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy, brilliant), a lonely bartender in a less-than-reputable establishment owned by Chechen mobsters, who use it as a front to funnel money to local criminals. Bob is insistent that, no matter how dirty everyone around him proves to be (including his greedy cousin Marv, played by James Gandolfini in his final film role), his hands are clean. After all, he just tends the bar.
Hardy is such a smart performer, though, that even as the soft-spoken Bob passes for a gentle giant, never triggering alarms in the heads of his mob-affiliated higher-ups or the psychotic thug (Matthias Schoenaerts) who begins harassing him about a dog Bob rescued and nursed back to health, there remains an unnerving, unplaceable glint in his eyes. There’s something there, and in the hard line of his jaw, that unsettles. When Marv involves both of them in a robbery gone wrong, that side to Bob begins to mainfest itself more, and the most arrantly satisfying part of The Drop is watching Hardy slowly peel away his character’s layers. To detail what the actor eventually brings to light would be a cinematic sin of the highest order, but suffice to say that the actor has rarely, if ever, been allowed to stretch himself with as few constraints as he has here.
Gandolfini, too, turns Marv into a relatable, if loathsome figure one can only assume wouldn’t have lasted long on The Sopranos. His naked ambition and cold cunning feel right at home in this world. In the less showy role of Nadia, a local woman who helps Bob raise his rescued stray even as that aforementioned thug (a particularly nasty ex of hers) re-enters her life, Noomi Rapace strikes a note of beleaguered rectitude. Her sweet, smartly played relationship with Bob rarely detracts from the criminal dealings that otherwise dominate the plot. With Schoenaerts lurking effectively in the backdrop and even bit players like Ann Dowd, John Ortiz and Michael Aronov doing strong work, The Drop‘s cast is really aces throughout.
However, it’s Lehane’s cleverly constructed script and Roskam’s searing direction that bring them together in a charged and compelling manner. The Drop isn’t a particularly ambitious crime drama, nor is it one that will be held up as a new classic of the genre decades from now. What it is, though, is a strongly realized, almost perfectly executed peek into the fascinatingly ambiguous world of cold, hard men making cold, hard decisions. And Hardy, playing one wounded animal trying to heal another, is the ideal guide for such a deep and dark journey.
On Blu-Ray, The Drop receives a highly solid 1080p transfer, which manages to supply a strong amount of detail into even the most shadow-choked of scenes. Though this crime drama employs a rather harsh, bleak color palette, its presentation is still impressive and absorbing, not to mention wholly evocative. Fully faithful to Roskam’s every intention, this is a solid video transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is also up to scratch if not anything to write home about. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, and Marco Beltrami’s score is excellently mixed in, as are background sound effects like crowd noise.
Special features include some interesting extras and a lot of promotional fluff:
- Deleted Scenes (6:22)
- Keeping it Real (3:54)
- Making of “The Drop” (3:45)
- Making Brooklyn Your Own (4:00)
- Rocco the Dog (2:21)
- Character Profile: James Gandolfini (2:11)
- Audio Commentary by Michaël Roskam and Dennis Lehane
- Gallery (2:05)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:23)
The laid-back but insightful commentary track is the real find here, but “Making Brooklyn Your Own” and “Keeping It Real” are both promo featurettes that dig a little deeper than the others, the former looking at location and the latter exploring Lehane’s desire to deepen the characters in specific ways throughout The Drop.
Video and audio are solid, and with a decent spread of extras, The Drop Blu-Ray is a uniformly solid release, as well as the best way to experience a truly terrific film. Hardy is electric, and Gandolfini also gets a chance to make one last impression, and even if nothing else in the pic worked, it would be worth watching for them alone. Luckily, though, The Drop also boasts white-knuckle tension, a whip-smart script and an intoxicatingly ominous atmosphere. It’s one of the best crime dramas of 2014.
Thanks to Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini, The Drop is a slow-burn crime drama in which the performances are just as rich and unnerving as Dennis Lehane's script.