As played by Tom Hardy in The Drop, Bob is a special kind of New Yorker, the kind that blends into a quiet neighborhood in Queens. He works long hours as a bartender for his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), an outspoken, unhappy fellow. Marv is single and lives with his sister Dottie (Ann Dowd) in what we assume is the family home, an entirely ordinary house, but that’s really none of our business, either, except their father lives in a nursing home that costs a lot of money they don’t currently have.
Thus, Marv feels compelled to do something to earn a lot of money in a short amount of time. The bar that he formerly owned and still manages now serves occasionally as a “drop,” a place where the new owner — a member of the Chechnian mob — will designate randomly for ill-gotten money to be deposited throughout a single night, bit by bit, the envelopes overstuffed with cash, until the owner returns to collect in the morning. Marv intends to make that money his own.
Now, bear in mind that Marv’s story serves as a background in the screenplay by Dennis Lehane, based on his short story “Animal Rescue.” The foreground is occupied by Bob, the quiet, ordinary man who doesn’t present himself as the brightest bulb in the house. That assessment has nothing to do with academic excellence or scholastic achievement or intellectual discourse. Instead, it’s the manner in which Bob lives and expresses himself.
Take, for example, a moment when Bob is walking briskly through his neighborhood and hears whimpering coming from inside a garbage can. He doesn’t hesitate to stop and open the container, where he sees and promptly picks up the puppy dog inside, and then embraces the whimpering animal. When a woman comes outside to see what he’s doing outside her house, she insists on seeing his driver’s license — and snapping a photo of it — before finally, reluctantly, allowing him into her home so they can clean up the dog.
From there, the wary relationship between Bob and Nadia (Noomi Rapace) develops. Bob does not push things. He keeps the focus on the dog. His guarded yet somehow still open personality strikes a chord with Nadia, who perhaps recognizes a kindred soul, someone who has been hurt, badly, in the past, and so is slow to express any emotion that might be regarded as “weak.” Meanwhile, Nadia’s past haunts her in the form of the shadowy, menacing Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), who crosses paths with Bob on more than one occasion.
The Drop itself is not a warm, open-hearted movie. It, too, is guarded and protective of its secrets and motivations, wary of those who might label it “a thriller” or “a mob movie.” It develops slowly and becomes more absorbing as it goes, in a similar vein to Bullhead, the first movie directed by Michaël R. Roskam.
While Bullhead cuts deeper and wider than The Drop, it serves as a good point of comparison for the newer film, which is also not in a rush, and more fascinated by what makes people tick than showing, exactly, how they tick. Nicolas Karakatsanis, who served as director of photography for Bullhead, returns in that capacity here; once again, the palette is limited intentionally, this time capturing the autumnal colors of the city from ground level and contributing to the mood of slowly-gathering anxiety.
Roskam elicits equally fine performances from the cast, which includes John Ortiz as a somewhat frustrated police detective and Michael Aronov as the nasty mob chief. It’s James Gandolfini who sticks out, in part because this was his final role before his premature death, and in part, because he’s playing a character who could have been a Soprano if he lived in New Jersey. As Marv, he’s bitter and unsettled. Despite being almost constantly surrounded by people, he’s so isolated that he can only follow, or trust, his own faulty counsel.
That spirit permeates The Drop. Living in a crowded neighborhood in a crowded city, the characters are all isolationists, cautious because past experiences have soured them on the essential goodness of mankind. They have to live with that, but it doesn’t mean they have to like it.
The film opens in theaters throughout Dallas and Fort Worth on Friday, September 12.