The Drop is the fourth Dennis Lehane adaptation to hit the big screen (following Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island), and it shares a number of common elements with its distinguished predecessors: a downbeat tone, observantly-drawn characters, the omnipresent spectre of grief and last-minute revelations that hit you like a ton of bricks. Lehane wrote this particular adaptation himself (greatly expanding his 20-page short story "Animal Shelter"), and it shows: this one feels more like a novel than any of the other Lehane films, letting the plot quietly unfold in the background while foregrounding the sort of low-key character beats and atmospheric moments that many films struggle to find time for.
Much of the film unfolds within the confines of a Brooklyn bar called Cousin Marv's, which is indeed run by a guy named Marv (James Gandolfini, The Sopranos), but no longer owned by him. Marv sold out to the Chechen mob years ago, and now he merely oversees the business while the mobsters use his bar as a "drop" - a place for illegally acquired items (usually envelopes stuffed with cash) to be dropped off and picked up. Marv's cousin Bob (Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road) serves as head bartender, and spends much of his time silently worrying about the position Marv has put himself in.
One night, Cousin Marv's is robbed at gunpoint. No one is hurt, but the police begin conducting an official investigation and the mob begins seeking vengeance. What neither side realizes is that Marv orchestrated the robbery himself in an attempt to scam the mobsters who own the bar. Meanwhile, Bob finds a badly-abused pit bull in a garbage can belonging to a young woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). It seems that the dog belonged to Nadia's hot-tempered ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenarts, Bullhead), a local criminal suspected of committing a high-profile murder ten years ago. Bob adopts the dog and strikes up a casual romance with Nadia - actions which inspire Eric to start visiting Bob's house to make vague threats.
Both the robbery and the romance build to moments of violence, but The Drop has little interest in conventional mob movie theatrics. This is a slow, quiet film, and it contains many scenes that could be described as "Tom Hardy stands around and looks concerned." This might be a problem if Hardy weren't such a compelling enigma: he doesn't talk much, but there's such deep longing in his eyes. Bob is a lonely man, and some of the film's most moving passages are devoted to watching him form a bond with the dog he adopts. You sense that the dog is providing the sort of unconditional love that no one else in Bob's life seems willing to offer, and there are faint traces of desperation in his voice when he attempts to persuade Nadia to go out with him.
Hardy's performance is a lovely piece of work, but it's Gandolfini's turn that leaves the biggest impression. Admittedly, part of this is due to the fact that The Drop offers the actor's final film appearance, and there's a profound sadness in his performance that's nearly as difficult to take as the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's mournful turn in A Most Wanted Man. Gandolfini is playing a man not entirely dissimilar to the one he essayed in Killing Them Softly: a once-respected figure who is now a mere shadow of his former self. The film's most affecting scene is a conversation between Gandolfini and Hardy; the former hurling insults at the latter in lieu of hurling insults at himself.
The film was directed by Michael R. Rossam, who previously collaborated with Schoenarts on the well-regarded Bullhead. His work his is restrained and unfussy, but he has an eye for the sort of minor details that make the neighborhood feel like a living, breathing place. The Drop seems to take place in a perpetually overcast world - sunshine and rain feel too extreme for this troubled purgatory. The cinematography rarely calls attention to itself, but Rossam is a deceptively good visual storyteller.
Unfortunately, the film struggles to avoid banality whenever it drifts away from its two leading men. The ongoing investigation (featuring John Ortiz as a friendly, inquisitive cop) never manages to turn into something genuinely interesting, and the mob scenes suffer from a similarly routine quality. Nadia and Eric are both underdeveloped, which seriously undercuts the power of one of the film's most startling moments. Most frustratingly, the film's final scene has a tacked-on quality that conflicts with the devastating nature of the scene preceding it. These problems make The Drop the least satisfying of the existing Lehane adaptations, but don't let that stop you from seeing it. I'll remember Bob's troubled eyes and Marv's weary sighs long after I've forgotten the details of their circumstances.
Rating: ★★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Year: 2014