Movie Review: “The Drop” isn’t perfect…on purpose…

Gandolfini and Hardy steal the show in "The Drop."

Gandolfini and Hardy steal the show in “The Drop.”

I walked into “The Drop” looking forward to taking in every bit of James Gandolfini’s final performance.

I walked out of “The Drop,” looking forward to taking in Tom Hardy’s next performances.

I didn’t know much about the movie heading into it, only following it through a less-than-zealous media campaign that pushed this film as a Gandolfini tour-de-force, which is the way it should have played, being it is his last role prior to his surprising death last year. Gandolfini certainly doesn’t disappoint as the singular talent that he will be remembered for.

What surprised me wasn’t that Gandolfini was brilliant in a smaller-than-I-thought role, it’s that Tom Hardy showcased the type of acting chops that will likely carry him on to Oscar aspirations in the future, if not for this movie, than certainly others. Hardy is most known for his blockbuster turns as Bane in “Batman Returns,” and Eames in “Inception.” This, is certainly not that.

The story is centered around Hardy’s Bob Saginowski, whose mere name signifies a simple man, working a simple job as a bartender at Marv’s, named after his cousin, played so well by Gandolfini. Things are never really quite as they seem though, as Marv’s is a Brooklyn “Drop-Bar,” and, well, Marv’s bar really isn’t Marv’s bar, as it is now owned by the Chechen mafia as a front for their various extra-curricular activities in the area.

Bob isn’t an innocent in all of this, as he handles the money from all of these drops, but is certainly not a guy on the “inside,” as he proclaims several times throughout the movie.

Bob’s simple story is the focal point of two separate story arcs. The first is triggered when Marv and Bob are robbed at gunpoint at the bar for five-large. The second kicks off shortly thereafter, when Bob finds a beaten pit-bull in a garbage can.

The robbery sets off a chain of events in which the Chechen mobster Chovka is introduced as the owner of Marv’s, and in typical fashion, is none-to-happy that he’s out five grand. This is a story-line that’s none-to-familiar with regards to mob-fare, but is needed in this case, to showcase the motivation for both Bob and Marv, going forward.

In the bar, Marv is every bit Tony Soprano, the boss, and someone that’s in command of everything around him. Outside the bar, we see Marv for exactly who he is, a weak man who lost his power long ago. When Chovka enters the picture, it’s clear that Marv isn’t respected in the least, even though we aren’t quite sure why. The only thing we know for sure is that there’s a murky past for all involved, even Bob whose hard work and ability to not back down seems to impress the Chechens in a mascot-sorta-way, even though it’s clear that Bob’s not really trying to impress anyone.

He’s just Bob, right?

You could tell that Gandalfini reveled in Marv, the anti-Tony Soprano, who is all bluster, but stuck in his life of no longer owning the bar that carries his name. In a wicked twist, we find out Marv is living with his sister, and that their father is on life-support. Both are rooted where they’re at, because they can’t afford to pay the bills for their unresponsive father. All this while being subservient to the crime family that took over his bar. This is a guy with his back against his wall, and that’s all the ammunition Gandolfini needed to show off just what Tony Soprano would have looked like if things were a lot different.

Hardy’s true brilliance came from the other arc, and that puppy dog he found in that garbage can. Bob’s simple-ness found something he could love in a life that was clearly full of loneliness. It immediately brought to mind Lenny from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a simple and not-to-smart character, who found something delicate to take care of.

It’s true, I didn’t feel good about the puppy’s chances, but I won’t throw in spoilers.

It turns out the trashcan the puppy was found in belonged to Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and was a gift from her abusive ex-boyfriend, Eric Deeds. This is where the story begins to get a bit odd and a little uncomfortable, even if I can’t quite convey why. Bob names the dog Rocco, and begins a rather awkward journey of taking care of a puppy, while also beginning a relationship with Nadia. It’s not clear during this stretch who Bob cares about more. I’ll get to that in a second.

Deeds, who is rumored to have killed a former patron of Marv’s ten-years earlier, begins to stalk Bob because of Rocco. It was a present that he had given Nadia and obviously beat and dumped in the garbage can when she broke up with him. Deeds’ placement is confusing at first, since we aren’t sure if he’s a part of Nadia’s life, or a part of the bar robbery, but it’s clear that he’s capable of anything.

In an odd turn of events, Deeds tells Bob that he wants ten grand for the Dog, or else he’ll tell the police that Bob is the one that beat him. It seems as though the ex realizes that Bob may be more interested in pets, and less interested in the ex.

Odd right?

I was certainly confused while watching this, and in the end, its how I’m sure director Michael Roskam wanted me to feel. This is exactly the point. The movie is supposed to be uncomfortable, and while every character that’s introduced adds to the overall canvas, it’s Tom Hardy’s Bob that leaves us with the biggest question-mark.

We are never quite sure what he’s all about.

There are signs throughout the movie that there is a depth to Bob that we don’t quite know. Every time he’s confronted by Deeds, you can see something under the surface, but you can’t quite put your finger on what. There’s a twitch here and there that makes us wonder if he’s holding something in, or holding something back, but he never steps over a line that doesn’t allow us to sit back and say, “nope, he’s just not all that smart.”

The only character in the movie that senses this undercurrent is Chovka, who unblinkingly respects Bob, even while showing disdain towards Marv.

There’s a moment in the movie in which a message is sent to Marv in the form of a human body part from the Chechans that’s hanging from a fence, in a bag, behind the bar. Bob calmly takes this body part, wraps it up like a sandwich with a wrench attached to it, and throws it in the Hudson river while playing fetch with his dog. As unsettling as that sounds, it’s handled with a subtlety by both director and actor that I didn’t give credence to in the moment. It’s the moment in the movie that lets us know that Bob is either much to simple, or utterly too complicated.

In the end, the movie leaves a lot of holes, both on purpose, and by accident. While it will sell itself as a Gandolfini mob-movie, that just won’t do it the justice it deserves. It does hav all the bells and whistles that a low level mob movies has, but the story is all about the character. It turns out that it’s just a singular story about a barkeep named Bob, who just happens to be Marv’s cousin, and who just happens to find Rocco the puppy.

Everything else…

…just gets in Bob’s way.

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