Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why I Didn’t Dig THE DROP As Much As Everyone Else

Now playing at an indie art house near me:

THE DROP (Dir. Michaël R. Roskam, 2014)

This gritty Brooklyn-set crime drama has gotten a lot of acclaim – it’s at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes – but it really didn’t make the impact on me that it did on the majority of critics. 

I mean, I highly enjoyed the gruff presence of James Gandolfini’s last screen appearance, and the quiet power of lead Tom Hardy is a study in subtlety, but the looming darkness, particularly in the case of the creepy antagonist played by Matthias Schoenaerts, felt empty and I found the narrative lacking.

Hardy plays a nice-guy bartender at Cousin Marv’s, a working-class bar run by Gandolfini but owned by the Chechen mob. Their seedy establishment is one of many that could be randomly chosen any given night to be a “drop bar.” When the bar is robbed by a couple of loser strivers (shades of more than one episodes of The Sopranos), the menacing Chechens breathe down the necks of Gandolfini and Hardy to get their money back.

Meanwhile, while walking home Hardy finds a whimpering wounded pit bull inside a neighbor’s garbage can at the edge of their property. In sort of a “meet crude,” Noomi Rapace as the neighbor agrees to help Hardy raise the puppy, and their relationship begins.

Threatening the situation is the bearded, hooded, and all sinister Schoenaerts, who claims it’s his dog and insinuates that he and Rapace used to be together.

Now, after seeing THE HUNT and CALVARY, I get nervous when it comes to the fate of a dog in these thrillers. Especially when the Schoenaerts’ lowlife heavy threatens its life and tells Hardy he can have it for $10,000. 

The climax is, of course, on a drop night. Schoenaerts forces Rapace to go with him at gunpoint to Cousin Marv’s, with the plan of not only getting his $10K from Hardy, but the rest of the money in the safe.

Spoilers! This is where the so called surprise twist comes in, involving Hardy relaying some crucial back story that lays down the law to Schoenaerts, and a little then some. Hardy owns this scene for sure, but why wasn’t this done earlier? Why did he let the ghastly guy creep on the sidelines for so long beforehand? The scene that the two first speak has Schoenaerts invite himself in to Hardy’s house and he takes his umbrella on the way out. Why not deal with him then?

It’s also depressing that Rapace has such an underwritten, only slightly disguised damsel in distress role. Almost makes one forget how much ass she kicked in those GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO movies. And Schoenaerts, who was in director Roskam's first film, BULLHEAD, is so dead-eyed and one note that he never registers as anything but a standard issue soulless bad guy.

THE DROP is based on a 2009 short story by Dennis Lahane called “Animal Rescue” that he fleshed out into this screenplay and a new novel adaptation. The shift in Lahane’s locales from his usual Boston stomping grounds to Brooklyn doesn’t make much difference, this scenario could go down in any crime-ridden working class urban jungle. It’s a mediocre descendant of MEAN STREETS no matter where it takes place.

Yet Gandolfini’s last grand appearance on the big screen deserves to be seen; his pissed off, formerly powerful character gets both laughs with his expert wiseacre delivery and pity with his put upon bitching about his station in life.

So in conclusion, Hardy and Gandolfini are great in it, but without them - fuggeddaboutit - THE DROP is no great shakes.

More later...

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