The Drop is a good example of how short stories and screenplays are different forms with different expectations and demands. Dennis Lehane, who writes the film, translates the material straightforwardly from his 2009 story ‘Animal Rescue’, producing a low-level Brooklyn crime drama which often feels both undernourished and padded. Director Michael R. Roskam impressed in 2011 with Bullhead, a Dutch-language feature about the animal hormone underworld in Belgium, and here he finds a similar, if less complex, story about day-to-day mob operations and the guarded, tense blue-collar men caught up in them.
Bob (Tom Hardy) and Marv (the late James Gandolfini) operate a modest neighbourhood dive named Cousin Marv’s, which is sometimes used as a ‘drop bar’ for dirty cash to pass hands. When they get robbed one night, the Chechens who actually own the place demand that they find the now-missing five thousands dollars. Meanwhile, Bob’s taken an abandoned bulldog into his care and is bonding with local waitress Nadia (Noomi Repace) over the animal, attracting the attention of her dodgy ex. It’s unremarkable, often cliched, material but it is helped enormously by the caliber of those involved, especially the lead performances. This is the last of Gandolfini’s posthumous roles, and it’s bittersweet. As always, he’s a sturdy presence, but it’s not as full a showcase for his talents as last year’s Enough Said, a romantic comedy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in which he got to be warmer, funnier and a fuller person. His Marv is a tough guy who was never really that much of a tough guy, still bitter at losing ownership of the bar: he’s basically Tony Soprano without the swagger. The meek Bob spends most of the film with a furrowed brow and mumbled dialogue, Hardy not quite matching the electric minimalism he brought to Steven Knight’s Locke (2013).
There are small good elements here. When the men are sparring up against each other, or grumbling about prosaic things like the garbage men leaving their bins upturned, there is a nice bubbling, affectionate tension. Particularly good are the scenes with Nina’s ex, Matthias Schoenaerts, a wiry ex-con with a reputation for flashes of violence who creeps into Bob’s view with a competing canine claim (yes, one of the key plotlines is about ownership of a dog). The film isn’t without threat or menace, but it’s all been crammed into the trailer and when you watch the full feature you realise there isn’t much else going on besides those moments. The screenplay faffs around too much, bolting on character and story beats that don’t contribute to the primary stakes and hold up momentum: the excellent Ann Dowd is wasted in a small role as Marv’s sister, while the sniffing around of a suspicious detective (John Ortiz) doesn’t come to much. Near the end, we learn new things about one of the central characters, and it’s the sort of thing that needed a third act to flesh out and establish consequences. Movies demand bigger things. Conor Smyth