Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini in his last film role) now runs the bar he once owned - A number of years ago, Chechen mobsters moved into town and made a play for his bar and territory, Marv flinched, so they now own his bar and use it as a drop for their huge stacks of dough, money that has to be moved outside of legal channels. Marv used to be a tough guy, with a crew, but now it is just him and Bob (Tom Hardy, "Locke", "The Dark Knight Rises", the new "Mad Max") who work the small bar in a Brooklyn neighborhood. It is the type of bar where the locals come after a shift to toast their friend who was killed years before. It is the type of bar where an old woman who lives in the neighborhood sits on a stool, all day, nursing a drink and running up a small bar tab. It is also the type of bar that you make tracks when you see the local mobsters arrive to take care of business. One night at closing, the bar is robbed. "Do you know whose money you're robbing?" Marv asks. The robbers make off with $5,000 and the gangsters arrive a few days later to ask Marv and Bob some questions. Neither knows who took the money, but the gangsters still want their $5,000. Marv has to come up with a way to replace the missing cash. One night, while walking home, Bob hears a little puppy whimpering in a trash can - he pulls it out, attracting the attention of the tenant, Nadia (Noomi Rapace, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", "Prometheus"). She realizes the dog was beaten and helps Bob get set up to take care of the puppy.
There is also a shady character named Eric Deeds (Mathias Schoenaerts, "Rust and Bone") wandering around, making trouble for everyone else.
Written by Denns Lehane (who wrote the books "Shutter Island" and "Gone Baby Gone"), based on his short story and directed by Michael R. Roskam (his first American film), "The Drop" is a painstakingly methodical film with some extremely nuanced performances that slowly draws you into the inner circle of the narrative and then carries you through to the climax.
Roskam seems content to let the narrative play out in real time. At least it seems that way, because the pacing is very deliberate - we spend a lot of time with Bob, getting to know him, watching his daily life, learning how he passes the time. Every day starts off with a visit to the 8 AM mass at the local church. Then he spends time at his home, a meticulously kept-up but extremely old-fashioned house that you get the feeling is inherited from his parents. And when he speaks, he does so slowly, as though he is trying to keep the words from getting jumbled up in his head. This also gives the impression that he may either be a few tickets short of a full house or he just wants to do things at his own speed. As the story progresses, the 'action' of the narrative begins to take shape, but it takes a while to get things in motion. And when the crime elements begin to make an appearance, there are long stretches between these moments, allowing us to continue to learn about Bob and the other people around him.
Hardy delivers one of the most nuanced performances I have seen in a long time. The British actor has adopted a very strange, affected accent. It doesn't sound like any Brooklyn accent I have ever heard, but Brooklyn mixed with Bob's education and background. Given what I have read about Hardy, he seems to be a “Method” actor, the type of actor who really gets into his characters and tries to maintain the persona at all times. In "The Drop", Bob's character seems a little under-educated and he speaks with a soft, slightly higher-pitched voice. All of these elements make it difficult, initially, to 'get' his performance - it takes a while to become comfortable watching him - but once you get to this point, you are able to follow him and go along for the ride.
Noomi Rapace plays Nadia, the nervous waitress who meets Bob and begins an uneasy, difficult to define relationship with the bartender. Initially, she agrees to help him with the dog; he asks her to watch the dog for a few days and then she gets roped into helping him shop for the pooch, showing him what to buy for the puppy. She eventually offers to walk the dog for him, when she has the time, to get the puppy out of the house when Bob is at the bar all day. It seems like it takes a long time for the relationship to develop because Nadia is a little nervous and because Bob doesn't seem to know what to do, what moves to make in order to take their relationship to the next level. You even begin to question if Bob has ever been with another woman.
Gandolfini is very good, he always is, and Cousin Marv comes alive with the actor's skill and personality. Marv is a man who was once somebody and now he is basically a hired hand. Because of this there is a slow burn evident under his facade at every moment. Marv lives with his sister in their ramshackle home. Whenever she speaks – she wants their comatose dad to remain at a home Marv can’t afford, she wants to go to Europe - he tenses up, hiding his grimace - and you get the sense that Marv is just barely tolerating everything in his life. This illustrates how difficult and different Marv's life has become. There are many things going on in Marv's mind at every moment and Gandolfini does a great job of letting us have a brief glimpse of all of these conflicting needs and insecurities at work.
Lehane is best known for creating stories about a group of richly detailed, interesting, authentic characters who get into trouble because they make the wrong decisions. These films have yielded critically lauded performances from a diverse group of actors. "The Drop" is no exception. Lehane takes the story of three people who seem pretty unexceptional and gives them so much detail and character you can't turn away from the screen. For much of the story, Lehane moves Bob, Nadia and Cousin Marv through a seemingly unremarkable story. But the more we get to know these people, the more we realize they are about to get into a heap of trouble. And the more we get to know about them, the more we care. The more we care, the more danger they seem to get into.
As you are watching "The Drop", you may not feel like it is providing enough action. I did't. As you watch Bob dealing with the dog and building his relationship with Nadia and dealing with Marv and the gangsters, the more gangster like elements of the story creep up on you and start to take over. It is an effective way of drawing you into this small, dangerous, very isolated universe.