Monday, September 29, 2014

'The Drop' review

I will never turn down a good crime drama and that's one of the reasons that I was so excited for The Drop. But unfortunately, I came away disappointed. The Drop is a film that dabbles with greatness, but just never manages to pull everything together. Tom Hardy gives an electrifying, brilliant performance as Bob Saginowski and the movie has a strong sense of mood and tone, but the terrific parts never come together in the way that they should. The more tangled the film's web of twists and turns becomes, the less interesting the film is. All of this amounts to a missed opportunity for a true crime classic. Screenwriter Dennis Lehane is one of the greatest crime novelists ever, but he tries to fit way too much into the film's compact 107 minute runtime. With a stronger focus on character and a tighter plot, this would be a much better movie. Instead, we're stuck with a decent crime thriller that ends up being a mixed bag.

Bob Saginowski is a bartender in Brooklyn who seems like a pretty harmless guy. He tends the bar, is friendly to the patrons and keeps everything pretty quiet. However, the bar has dark secrets of its own. The truth is that the bar operates as a "drop" bar- a place for criminals to take their dirty money. Bob and his Cousin Marv (the late James Gandolfini) used to truly own the neighborhood, but now Cousin Marv's (the name of the bar) is owned by a Chechen gang. So when the place is robbed, bad things start to happen. The gang wants their money and will do anything to find it. Meanwhile, Bob is also trying to rescue a small pitbull puppy and court Nadia (Noomi Rapace), who has a dark past of her own. Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaearts) also comes into the picture as the main antagonist and a frightening figure in the lives of everyone involved. This tangled web of crime eventually erupts in an insane third act filled with shockingly tragic violence and brilliant surprises.

The Drop gets off to a terrific start and the promising first act hints at what could have been a brilliant, Scorsese-esque character study. Bob Saginowski is an infinitely interesting character and Tom Hardy manages to make him sympathetic and tragic. Bob deals with guilt and is haunted by his past, but is a sweet guy at heart. He always seems to want to do what is right, and when he adopts the pitbull puppy, Hardy manages to connect the audience to the character even more. But beneath all of the calmness, there's a deep sense of rage within Bob. Hardy is perfect in the role because he keeps that rage so deep under wraps. Just like Bob tries to do.

The rest of the cast is strong as well, although all of them are overshadowed by Hardy's dazzling performance. James Gandolfini is good in his final film role and has a well-written part to work with. Cousin Marv is a guy who's dealing with an immense sense of loss and he feels like his life has fallen apart. Although Lehane tangles the character through too many threads, he writes Cousin Marv to perfection. The supporting cast is highlighted by Noomi Rapace, who is given some good material to work with as Nadia. She has a meaty role and does a pretty solid job. Matthias Schoenaearts is less impressive as the sadistic Eric Deeds and John Ortiz's detective should have been cut from the film completely. He just adds another unnecessary layer to the plot.

The Drop is also a technically amazing film, filled with dark cinematography and a good sense of mood and tone. Nicolas Karakatsanis' cinematography gives the film its sinister mood and portrays its Brooklyn setting vividly. The gloomy snow and the hard bars of Brooklyn are awesomely portrayed and I really loved the way that director Michael R. Roskam shot the film. It's stunning to look at and I wish more films looked like this.

Dennis Lehane is The Drop's best and worst weapon. Lehane is a tremendous writer. I tore through his novel Live by Night in no time (I can't wait for Ben Affleck's film adaptation) and several of his other books I hope to read in the future. But he just can't quite make this film completely work. He brings in several interesting themes and the characters are well-written, yet there are simply way too many subplots. As the film went on, I became less and less interested in what was going on. Lehane keeps introducing new characters and new subplots as the film progresses and it just doesn't come together.

One of the film's biggest weaknesses is the character of Eric Deeds, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. Deeds is a psychopathic criminal, who essentially follows around Bob and Nadia. He has a connection to Cousin Marv, the pitbull puppy and he was Nadia's boyfriend. Yet he's just not all that interesting. Deeds connects the crime aspects of the story with the softer character parts and I feel like that was unnecessary. I can't really say why Lehane felt the need to add a conventional antagonist to a character-focused crime drama. Deeds is the glue of the story, but he just is terribly bland and uninteresting.

The ending of this film redeems some of the movie's previous mistakes. All of the crime threads end with appropriately gruesome violence, but there's an immense sadness to it. The characters are so well-written that you feel a true sense of remorse for them as the bodies start to pile up. But truly, this is a great ending in an otherwise decent film.

The Drop is a film that could have been something great, but some missteps in the script prevent it from being a masterpiece of the genre. Tom Hardy gives one of the year's best performances and Dennis Lehane definitely has a future with screenwriting, but you absolutely can tell that this was his debut. He tries to fit a lot of material into a 107 minute film and he really needed to cut some subplots (the film feels overlong as it is). Although this is a decent movie, I couldn't help but walk away from The Drop disappointed. There are lots of great aspects, but the whole film just doesn't work smoothly.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.8/10)

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