This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 23rd November 2014
Right from the opening voiceover, which explains the film’s central premise, The Drop promises all the tropes of a solid crime drama. The tale of an unassuming bartender who gets caught up a gangland robbery is based on a short story by Mystic River’s author Dennis Lehane, and stars James “Soprano” Gandolfini in his last film role. Dragon Tattoo’s original femme fatale, Noomi Rapace, makes a convincing move from Sweden to the grim wintry suburbs of New York. There’s even a cameo by James Frecheville, the ingénue who was at the centre of superb Australian crime movie Animal Kingdom.
The leader of the pack, however, seals the “Should I watch it?” deal. Brit Tom Hardy (Locke, Inception, Lawless) has been honing his craft for 14 years, and has recently seen his stock soar. As gentle Bob Saginowski his squeaky-voiced Brooklyn accent is spot-on, his demeanour credibly engaging as the wide-eyed innocent who gives away free drinks to keep peace with the neighbourhood’s unsavoury types. Even the adage “Never work with children or animals” can be ignored if you’re Hardy, who carries a chocolate brown boxer pup through much of the movie, melting hearts on and off-screen.
Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam has done well with only his second feature film, taking an old-school premise that is refreshingly drug-free for a contemporary crime story (although the thematic conventions of money and Catholicism inevitably recur) and crafting a crisply edited tale from sharp casting and great photography. Bolstering the commendable performances, Roskam has taken the opportunity to cast his compatriot Matthias Schoenarts (the pair broke out with Bullhead) as a subtly shifty villain, Schoenarts’ native accent effectively banished.
Occasionally the characters slip into (albeit amusing) Tarantinian unlikeliness as thugs correct each other’s geographical ignorance, and the film never quite reaches the ecstatic heights of its ancestor Goodfellas or even The Town. But mainly thanks to Hardy’s intensity and tireless commitment, The Drop still fulfils its promise.