If a crime thriller falls in the woods and doesn’t make a sound, can it still be any good?
It’s a strange thing how some movies will catch on and others will fall by the wayside. There’s no predictable formula for it; though Hollywood types and critics and bloggers all love to pontificate as to why one film succeeds and another fails, the truth lies in the old William Goldman maxim: “No one knows anything.” Chris Hemsworth can be one of the biggest movie stars in the world when playing Thor in the Marvel movies, but cast him as a hacker in Michael Mann’s Blackhat and it’s one of the biggest bombs of 2015. Same goes for last year’s crime thriller The Drop. Despite the presence of movie star Tom Hardy, source material from famed crime novelist Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island) and the final film performance from the late James Gandolfini, The Drop came and went with barely a whimper — hardly released in theaters, almost no marketing and making no impact on the pop culture landscape. But why? It’s certainly not the movie, which is a pretty good — if far from great — crime drama.
Tom Hardy (Bronson) plays Bob, a bartender in a Brooklyn bar called Cousin Marv’s, owned by Marv (who else? He’s played by James Gandolfini, The Sopranos). The bar is used as a “drop” spot for gangsters, meaning that money drops are made every few weeks and then picked up the Chechen mob. After a night of big drops, the bar is robbed by masked stick-up men; the Chechens suspect that Bob and Marv have something to do with it and tell them to get back the cash…or else. Around the same time, Bob rescues an abused pit bull and befriends a woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace, Prometheus) who bears a few scars of her own. With financial troubles closing in on Marv, the Chechen mob breathing down their necks and a man called Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts, Bullhead) threatening to take back “his” dog from Bob, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
The Drop is the first American film from Belgian director Michaël Roskam, best known for the 2011 crime drama Bullhead. Like in his excellent debut, The Drop has a strong sense of place (in this case Brooklyn) and the kind of working-class criminal that might often be represented on film but rarely in a way that feels this authentic. It helps that he’s working from a screenplay by Dennis Lehane (his first written for the screen, actually), who also excels at inhabiting locations with well-drawn characters who share a sense of history with one another. That sense of place and atmosphere is the best thing about The Drop, as its themes of people’s capacity for violence have been explored to better effect elsewhere. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t feel like anything new — just a familiar song, well played.
As can be expected with a cast like this, the performances are all strong. Tom Hardy continues to do good and different work in every movie in which he appears; his character here is miles away from the one-man tour de force he plays in Locke, but both were released in the same year. Gandolfini makes everything better by virtue of his sheer presence, but it would be a lie to suggest that anything he does in The Drop feels far removed from previous work he’s done — it’s a variation on Tony Soprano and any other heavies he has played, only a little more desperate and pathetic. He gets a couple of good speeches, but not much else. Noomi Rapace seems like the go-to actress for movies like this: gray and dour and oppressive and mostly humorless. Her participation recalls her work in Dead Man Down, which isn’t as good a movie as The Drop but which has a similar vibe. The rest of the cast is made up of heavy-hitter character actors like John Ortiz (Miami Vice) and Ann Dowd (Compliance), all of whom perform exactly as we’ve come to expect.
Like most brand new films released in high def, Fox’s Blu-ray of The Drop looks and sounds excellent. Boasting a full 1080p transfer in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio, the movie handles the darkness of the photography incredibly well; despite being shot in low light and shadow, the image remains clear and never succumbs to crush issues. Skin tones remain natural throughout and colors feel natural; no digital smoothing or tinkering is noticeable at all. Because this is a talky movie, the lossless 5.1 surround track isn’t called upon to do much, though it handles the demands placed upon it ably. The dialogue remains clear and there are moments of immersive sound design, particularly during the sequences in the bar (which, to be fair, are frequent).
The bonus features kick off with a good commentary by Roskam and author Dennis Lehane, who discuss the project and the shoot with a relaxed ease. They also speak over a collection of deleted scenes (the commentary is optional), which includes a funny bit in which Lehane points out he didn’t write a scene and Roskam doesn’t believe him until he remembers it was Hardy improvising. There’s a collection of promotional featurettes focusing on different aspect of the film, including the location, the dog and Gandolfini; each individual short runs only between two and four minutes. A digital copy of the movie is also included.
The Drop isn’t a revelation, nor is it a great example of its genre. But it is a good one, and a movie that deserved a better life than the one it received (to be fair, it did ultimately gross a bit more than its relatively small $12 million budget at the domestic box office, so it’s not like the movie is a failure). It’s the kind of movie that will perform well on cable and a Redbox, when audiences are willing to give it a shot based on the cast and the fact that they’ve probably never heard of it, only to be pleasantly surprised at its accomplished direction, solid screenplay and just enough twists to keep things interesting. If every movie were at least as good as The Drop, we could consider ourselves very lucky.
Worth a look.