Crime dramas are a dime a dozen.
It’s a popular genre with plenty of easily recyclable tropes: the discount bins runneth over with Lock, Stock ripoffs and Danny Dyer Mockney crime capers. Then again, if you’re with Dennis Lehane, foremost authority on the seedy underbelly of Boston, and Michaël R. Roskam, rising star director of the Oscar-nominated Bullhead, you’re probably off to a good start.
The Drop has picked up most of its press, however, for containing the last performance of the late, great James Gandolfini. And contain it does: as the surly, indolent Cousin Marv, Gandolfini inhabits the corners of the film like a baited bear, struggling to break free of his tether. While hardly a stretch for Gandolfini – think an elder Tony Soprano transplanted to Beantown, TV room and all – it’s feels like a fitting swansong.
While Marv longs for the (perhaps non-existent) glory days, it’s up to Tom Hardy’s Bob to keep things running. Alternately nasal and mumbling, like a latter-day Terry Molloy, Bob is seemingly a study in quiet bewilderment, an isolated individual only truly at home behind the bar. When he comes across a battered pit-bull puppy in a dustbin, he seems taken aback at the prospect of company, canine or otherwise.
While initially mawkish, Rocco the puppy is the means by which we come to know Bob, to understand his loneliness; its through the wounded animal that he connects with the guarded but kind-hearted Nadia (Noomi Rapace typecast as “mysterious woman in need”.) Roskam’s direction keeps us studiedly outside of the characters, keeping us at a distance, even in the wake of Matthias Schoenaert’s blase psychopath.
Lehane’s blue-collar Boston is a place where no one escapes the neighborhood; things change but, for better or worse, you’re stuck. The Drop‘s peripheral threats – a dark-eyed Cechen mob enforcer (Michael Aronov) who wants his money and a Columbo-like Catholic cop (John Ortiz) making inquiries – are ultimately less interesting than the cast of regulars who gather to commemorate an absent friend 10 years after the fact.
Though fairly run-of-the-mill in conception and merely solid in execution, The Drop‘s final act is genuinely revelatory: plot-lines converge – the criminal and human elements – and the tension ratchets; a series of jump cuts alludes to one character’s mind-set in a way that foreshadows, well… that would be spoiling it. It’s enough to say this may well be the finest Boston-set crime drama since Gone Baby Gone.