You’d think mixing the late, great Soprano, James Gandolfini, with Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, would make an excellent crime-drama. That’s what I thought at least, but I felt somewhat robbed by ‘The Drop’, my valuable time wasted on a film which can’t decide whether to go all in or play it safe with the long game. A “drop bar”, as helpfully explained in the opening sequences of the film, is a like bank deposit box. Except, instead of Sally from accounts ducking out an hour early to drop the weekly takings off, in this instance we’re talking mob-controlled business owners.
Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is the resident barman in one of the controlled bars; Cousin Marv’s. The former proprietor, and inspiration for the name of the bar, Cousin Marv, is played with what feels like great ease by the late James Gandolfini. After the bar gets robbed, the Chechen mafia decide it will become a drop bar for Superbowl night, where some shady characters, a re-homed dog and a disgruntled bar owner collide resulting in a deadly conflict. But all is not as it seems as mild mannered Saginowski has a hidden past that refuses to go away.
With that out of the way it’s time to draw some conclusions. Despite being billed as a mob thriller, this film is much more of an exploration on the downturn and recycling of the New York crime scene, where Irish and Italian Mafioso have been replaced with Chechens. Partly through Cousin Marv, the film is viewed from a cynical perspective. Much like a down on his luck, former, successful businessman would quip, an “in my day we’d respect the employee and the employee would respect us” kind of mentality is prominent. When, in reality, the employee always hates the boss, ’cause in the end the boss is screwing him. And that’s how Cousins Marv’s life has turned out, on the lowest rung.
We mostly live the tale however, through lowly Bob Saginowski’s eyes. He is more pragmatic in the downturn, understanding the changing of the guard and passively accepting it. Hardy plays the character well, if not a little dumb sometimes; he doesn’t know how to take care of a dog, but knows exactly how to dispose of body parts, run a bar and live alone? The film has a certain pragmatism because of this, almost like the reality and bitterness of the characters bled in to the script and caused it to be so rigid. All the key scenes kind of happen as planned, the bar robbery is without incident, the creepy stalker, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, stalks a great deal and is menacing, but just stalks. The Chechens act a lot like gangsters, and whilst they’re violent, you would expect nothing less. Cousin Marv’s bitter need for a fightback leads him to plan a way to extort the Chechens, but that’s not a surprise when it transpires, and it doesn’t come out in a tense ‘Inglorious Basterds’ style shoot ’em up. No, Gandolfini just ends up meeting one of the bar robbers (how diplomatic).
The role of Bob is to just acquiesce until he is forced to step in, leaving the finale to be a tad predictable. He brings a gun to the bar, and of course he’s gonna know how to use it, I mean, we saw him wrap an arm up in cling film and threw it in the Hudson earlier in the film. The action in this film is calculated, because it’s determined by the necessity of the situation, so it’s rare that you feel on edge watching it unfold. The biggest twist comes exactly when you most expect it; you know it’s coming because all the characters are in the same place. And they are red flagging you before it even happens – a little extra action on Superbowl night in the bar.
Overall, I like the subtlety of the characters, they all feel realistic, but I just get a sense this was more of a film for actors rather than a plot driven film. It just leaves you wanting to see the characters in their heyday, and the crucial events just pass by like it is all premeditated. And, much like in real life, the boss keeps his job, the passive employee’s keep their jobs, and the militant protestor gets fired…literally. This film is like a fireball your friend just got in his pick n mix, you want the sweet but as soon as you’re eating it you realise it’s too hot, so you’ve got to save face and suck through the pain. In this case, Gandolfini spits the sweet out and starts roaring, blames other people for his shitty situation, and has to whack a few guys. Tom Hardy doesn’t want the fireball, but is forced to eat it and face the consequences. The twist is, he’s already been eating fireballs for years – he knows the taste all too well.
Director: Michael R. Roskam
Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace