Mark Reviews Movies

The Drop


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michaël R. Roskam

Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Michael Aronov, Elizabeth Rodriguez, 

MPAA Rating: R (for some strong violence and pervasive language)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 9/12/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 11, 2014

Claiming reasonable ignorance of a crime is a legitimate legal defense. For example, if a bartender found a garbage bag tied to the fence behind the bar and told the owner that he had to see what's inside the bag, the owner has a choice of whether or not to look. It's probably in his best interest not to look, but human nature is curious. Once the owner looks, whatever is in that bag is on him. Let's say the bag is filled with thousands of dollars in bloody cash and a severed arm. At this point, the owner has another choice to make, and human nature is also a proponent of survival. That leads to ignorance of a different kind, and The Drop is a study of characters who are experts at that willful variety of ignorance.

The incident with the garbage bag happens here. Bob (Tom Hardy), the bartender, discovers the bag and its contents, and his boss and cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), who runs the bar, refuses to look inside the bag. He doesn't "need to see" what's inside, but he knows that's a lie. He might even want to see. Marv likely knows the moment Bob finds the bag in the first place. In the time it takes for him to notice the bag and for him to look in it, though, Marv at least can live in the minute or less of plausible deniability.

What's fascinating and ultimately frustrating about these characters is how they find ways to talk about anything but what they know to be the truth. Early in the movie, Bob finds an abandoned and abused puppy, and that is what he spends a good chunk of time discussing. He worries that he won't be a good owner. He doesn't know the supplies he needs, what food the dog eats, or how to care for it any way. Marv wants to put a stop to his cousin's worries and argues, "It's just a dog." When Bob finds the severed arm, we suspect Marv would probably rather go back to a conversation about house training.

Nobody here directly talks about the most obvious thing: that these people were, are, and, for the foreseeable future, will remain criminals of one form or another. Bob and Marv have moved past their younger days in an independent crew after the Chechen mob took over their area of Brooklyn. Despite Bob's protests that he's just a bartender, he and his cousin are still embroiled in the life. Most of the bar's profits are handed over to the mob, and on occasion, it serves as a drop and pick-up point for the organization's bookmaking enterprise.

They have no legal ground for ignorance or deniability, but they certainly go out of their way to deny to themselves what's happening. The money is enclosed in an envelope and hidden under a newspaper or in the bar's safe. The arm is dumped in the water (Marv finds it eerie how well Bob wraps the limb in plastic, like he's done it a thousand times). After the bar is robbed, Chovka (Michael Aronov), the son of the head of the mob, arrives to show Bob and Marv a suspect in the back of a van—his foot bored into the floor of the vehicle with an industrial screw. As soon as the door closes, neither of the men discusses the horrific sight again.

The plot—so much as there is one—involves the robbery of the bar, a persistent detective (John Ortiz) who starts digging into the crime more than anyone involved would want him to, and Bob's relationship with Nadia (Noomi Rapace). He finds the puppy in a garbage can in front of her house, and the two bond over its care. Her ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), who has just been released from a mental facility after a stint in jail and is rumored to have gotten away with murder, turns up claiming that the dog is his. He begins a campaign of intimidating Bob, and of course, Eric only implies his threats.

It all comes together more or less—the various threads, the characters, and the pattern of hiding of key information about both of these. There's a sense, though, that the screenplay by Dennis Lehane (based on his short story "Animal Rescue") is using the characters' silence beyond studying the psychological mechanics of these characters. In the third act, they open up about their past actions and their current feelings. The most potent scene belongs to Gandolfini (in the late actor's final performance), as Marv recalls his glory days as someone with power. Hardy's performance as the apparently slow-witted Bob is fine, but the character is such an enigma that it feels like a one-note affair. Rapace has even less to do as a character who seems inconsequential until she becomes a damsel in distress in the third act.

When the movie's major revelation comes, there is the sinking sensation that we've been played. What seemed to be insight about the characters earlier feels like a long grift. It's intriguing to watch these characters misdirect themselves and each other, but once we realize the goal of The Drop is to misdirect us, it feels like an act of bad faith on the movie's part.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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