Skip to main content

No, I'm not them. And I'm not this.

The Drop
(2014)

(SPOILERS) The Drop is a very pleasant surprise. I had the impression it was rather tepidly received by critics (although the “arbiter” that is Rotten Tomatoes suggests otherwise), and I haven’t been overly impressed with past adaptations of Dennis Lehane material (even the best have been lacking something). This one is self-adapted from his short story and, while it’s not without its flaws, it is anchored by a powerfully magnetic performance from Tom Hardy, underplaying yet simultaneously sucking all the attention in the room his way. Director Michaël R Roskam complements him with deceptive sureness of tone, exerting a grip despite an unhurried, measured pace.


The film, originally known as Animal Rescue (an understandable title to change, but The Drop is so nondescript its no wonder it didn’t get much notice), went largely ignored by the public. It seems destined to be noteworthy only as James Gandolfini’s final role, rather than for its content. In respect of his performance, there isn’t anything very remarkable here; Gandolfini’s done this kind of thing many times before. He’s dependable and professional, but Marv, former owner of the Brooklyn bar that is now used as a money drop for the Chechen mob, is a familiar type; a low-level guy without the stones to make it bigger in the criminal world but the need for cash and a means to get some.


Bob (Hardy) is Marv’s cousin and the bar tender. He comes across as slightly slow and internalised, a man who dutifully does what he is told, lives in his deceased parents’ house and frets over having a dog because of the responsibility. Bob appears to be a bit of a soft touch, allowing a regular to run up a tab, giving out free rounds and at Marv’s beck and call. And for a long time it’s difficult to gauge where he’s coming from. Part of the fascination with The Drop is figuring Bob out.


When the bar is robbed, and the Chechens’ money taken, Bob’s response is not fearful. And when the arm of one of the robbers shows up in a bag full of money, Bob’s response is to carefully (obsessive compulsively?) wrap up the arm in cellophane before dropping it in the river. This contrasts with his reaction to Nadia (Noomi Rapace). After finding an abandoned puppy (Rocco) in her trash, he strikes up a tentative relationship based on her dog knowledge. But Bob is very backwards in coming forwards, shy and diffident. And her ex, menacing lowlife Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), is given to showing up at his house and threatening him.


Lehane’s script only gradually reveals Bob, and even come the credits he leaves us to fill in the blanks. As we discover Marv was behind the robbery, so Bob’s light begins to seep from under the bushel  (“Are you doing something desperate? Again?” he asks Marv, who drops hints of Bob's concealed potential throughout). Is he really going to submit to Eric, give him ten grand to keep Rocco? The reveal of Bob’s steely resolve isn’t as in a flash, when all of a sudden we discover someone isn’t who they appeared to be. Bob kind of is who he appears to be.


Bob’s someone who allows himself to be what people think of or project on him. He’s unassuming because others think he’s unassuming, and because it means no one is looking his way. But he also inhabits the role he has fashioned for himself. He will only take what is readily within reach, and even then he is nervous of such attachments. This explains his curiously limited analysis of why he kills Eric (“He was going to hurt our dog”), which might suggest a morally unplugged or empathically disconnected inner life (but which is contrasted by his perceptiveness throughout, be it correcting Marv on the pronunciations of Chechens or revealing to Nadia why he never brought up her scars). He let Rocco become part of the tiny microcosm of things he cares about, and his personal code knows no limits under those circumstances (which is why he killed Richie Whelan for Marv all those years ago). It’s why he is more comfortable with Nadia running away from him; he rather expects her to confirm she wants him to “stay away” at the end.


Bob isn’t unveiled as your standard issue sociopath then, but he lives in a world where diminishing himself is protective. He doesn’t embrace his capacity for violence, which is why he doesn’t take communion and doubts there is forgiveness for what he has done, and it’s probably why he keeps Whelan’s body in the oil tank in the basement (to be mindful of what he has done, and what hangs over him). When he says to Nadia, “No, I’m not them. And I’m not this” he isn’t. But he has the capacity to be both.


This is a fascinating, riveting performance from Hardy, and primary evidence, if any were needed, of why he’s one of the best actors working today. When Detective Torres (John Ortiz) says “No one ever sees you coming, do they Bob?” it’s a "cool" moment, but one that is a little over-conflating. Bob isn’t a Keyzer Soze-like mastermind leading a double life and retreating to the shadows. The fade to black before Nadia returns (we hear her footsteps) isn’t a “Will she or won’t she?” so much asking if Bob can adapt to her presence in his life or will he ultimately be compelled to retreat from this involvement and confronting himself through her.


Hardy is so consummate, it’s a shame some of the surrounding elements aren’t so well handled. Rapace is fine, but her role is barely there. The Torres subplot expounds every dogged cop cliché going. And having Chechen gangsters, in the same year as The Equalizer, The November Man and John Wick (another picture that revolves around a faithful pooch) seems like everyone has the same go-to Eastern European gangster locale. Schoenaerts is suitably slimy as Eric, though, a believably intimidating presence even up against Hardy, while Ann Dowd has a couple of scenes as Marv’s sister and makes the most of them.


There appears to be a subtext about lost causes here; it’s notable that Marv’s choice is, on the surface at least, motivated by a wish to do the right thing. He needs to pay his father’s care bills. Yet his father is in a vegetative state, and his sister is able to face the reality that it’s time to take him off life support. Marv’s inability to do likewise, in the same way that he can’t accept that he no longer has any street cred, is his undoing. In contrast, the more perceptive Bob sees the battles he cannot win, and is even reluctant to put himself out there with ones he can (a discarded dog, a possible relationship).


As I say, I’ve been less than effusive over other Lehane movies. I found Mystic River obvious and manipulative, Gone Baby Gone fundamentally miscast and ultimately contrived, and Shutter Island barely had enough material to sustain a Twilight Zone let alone a two and a quarter hour movie. Yet The Drop, easily his least recognised picture, is by far his most thought provoking and resonant. And coming hot on the heels of Locke, The Drop is further evidence not only of Hardy’s mesmerising screen presence, but also how accomplished an accent actor he is.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.