First we lost Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn and now we’ve lost the setting for “The Drop” to that city as well. Revered Boston crime novelist Dennis Lehane’s screenplay for “The Drop” (his first endeavor as a cinematic scribe) was based on “Animal Rescue,” a short story he wrote ten years ago and set in Boston. For “The Drop,” which opens today, he transposed the locale to Brooklyn, purportedly because the author wanted to stretch his wings and try out some new turf. In addition, Lehane just turned "The Drop's" screenplay into a similarly titled novel.
So, just to make sure that we're all on the same page, it's a book, based on a screenplay, based on a short story. Got it?
Lehane himself, on the heels of the successful screen adaptations of his crime novels, "Mystic River," "Gone Baby Gone" and "Shutter Island," has departed Boston for L.A. to be closer to the biz. It's an understandable move, but not free of the ironic shadows of "Beat L.A."(which Pierce and Garnett did) and the same migratory path of ignominious Boston crime boss, Whitey Bulger.
Brooklyn, as "The Drop” has it, is a dark, dingy place where hard-working people and shady mobsters intersect with plenty of crossover. One such middler is the affable, yet gruff Marv (played by the late James Gandolfini), who runs a bar, tagged Cousin Marv’s. Marv used to own the bar, but the Chechen mob took over to create a cash drop. A quick montage depicts illicit greenbacks on the move, slipping through a secret slot in the bar top during business hours and later, after closing, then getting sealed into a Trojan keg of sorts and shipped off to be laundered—or something like that.
But Marv and the funny money are all just background noise for “The Drop's” real story of a boy, his dog and a girl, and metaphorically speaking, the size of the fight in the dog. That boy, Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), pours the drinks at Marv's and is Marv's cousin.
Two events drive the film. Coming home one night, Bob finds a mauled pit bull pup in the trashcan. A wary waitress named Nadia (Noomi Rapace), who previously worked at an animal shelter, helps him clean the pitbull up and agrees to help him care for the pup. Nadia also comes with some baggage—a lingering ex named Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) who bares street cred for an unsolved murder and has a knack for showing up wherever Bob goes. The second driving thread is the hold up at Marv's on the night of a modest drop and the Chechens' relentless pursuit to recover the token amount.
There’s a slight jerky contrivance to the film. Layers, pasts and red herrings run deep in Lehane’s stories. In the hands of Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam, previously noted for his darker and more brutal 2011 movie "Bullhead” starring Schoenaerts in a more substantial role, the gritty crime slicked streets feel genuine and affectingly claustrophobic. That said, Eric and the dog get pulled into scenes for postures of cuteness and menace—props to spur the action. It's a device that Lehane adaptations enlist for that final "deft" twist that's supposed to wow and cement in one fell swoop.
Veteran directors like Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, bolstered by big budgets and A-list actors, were able to steer clear of such trappings, while Ben Affleck, making his directorial debut with "Gone Baby Gone," dug deep into the grittiness of his characters and the dirty underside of our fair city.
Here, Roskam and the film are blessed by the presence of Hardy, who as a foreigner himself, tackles the hoodish New York accent and Bob's taciturn reserve with skilled mastery. Hardy (who mostly plays troubled men in tough situations), may not have demonstrated much range as of yet, but has demonstrated immeasurable control and confidence. His performance, coupled with Gandolfini's poignant final bow, atones for the storyline foibles which stem from elongation strain of what was a very tight short story.