More than most other genres, crime dramas seem to be stubbornly glued to particular, well-worn story tropes. Just try to think of a crime/gangster movie that doesn’t include at least one of the following: dirty money, a double-cross, armed robbery, heavily-accented tough guys, or a hardened female love interest with a dark past. The Drop has all of these and more.
To stick out in the crime genre, it isn’t as simple as trying to avoid these cliches. In fact, going out of your way to avoid them is probably inadvisable. Instead, you just need to do them really well, and surround them with enough fresh elements. Director Michael R. Roskam clearly understands this. From performances to script to direction, The Drop manages to transcend its cliches to become one of the best dramas so far this year.
There are basically two plots happening simultaneously, both focusing on Bob (Tom Hardy). Bob tends his cousin Marv’s bar, a bar which serves as the middleman for any and all transfers of cash obtained through dubious means. After the joint is robbed and a Chechen gang’s money is taken, Bob and Marv (James Gandolfini) become implicated in a twisty and dare I say a bit convoluted scheme. In his final role, Gandolfini plays his usual Sopranos-style tough guy. No surprises from him as there was in the equally great but very different movie Enough Said from last year.
Meanwhile, the Chechens may be from Chechneya, but it’s not fooling anyone. They’re your standard Russian bad guys with thick accents and violent, no-nonsense ‘business’ practices. There’s also a detective who’s hot on everyone’s trail. It’s all stuff you’ve seen before, and it never gets as visceral or suspenseful as The Town or The Departed.
The other story is Bob’s refreshingly low-key attempt to raise a dog he finds in the trash, with the help of a woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Nadia is the hardened female love interest, in case you were wondering. Whereas the crime stuff is more or less standard, albeit well-filmed, this thread is much easier to become invested in.
The major drama arises once Bob’s work life and private life begin to collide, and he struggles to keep them separate. Bob must eventually grapple with why exactly he remains a part at a bar openly frequented by thugs. And is it worth it? While this sounds like the average ‘former criminal can’t escape his past’ plot line, it’s really the nuances of Hardy’s character and his palpable internal conflict that allowed me to forgive the film delving into such familiar territory. He remains at the bar out of respect, trust, and even love towards his cousin, not out of any desire to take part in the lifestyle. There’s no doubt he’s a good guy at heart, but can you really still consider yourself a good guy if you involve yourselves, even if indirectly, in a world of crime?
These themes are conveyed so well not just because of the script but thanks to Tom Hardy’s typically excellent performance. He’s just quiet and enigmatic enough that you constantly want to know more about him and what’s going on in his head. His earnest desire to take care of and protect this puppy serves as stark contrast to the seedy goings-on at Marv’s bar, and this juxtaposition adds many layers to what at first seems like a fairly simple character.
In comparison, both Noomi Rapace and Gandolfini have less psychological depth to work with, but they complement Hardy’s character well enough that you can buy into both relationships. As the only female in a very male-driven movie, Rapace definitely holds her own. Though, would you expect any less from the original ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’?
Even though I found the crime stuff a bit confusing, with too many generically thuggish characters using obtuse gang-speak, Bob’s personal journey is always there to help focus the story. His struggle is always on display right there on his face. The Drop is primarily worth seeing for this reason. Among several powerful supporting roles, Hardy gives a performance that perhaps, in a movie that took more risks, could have gotten some real Oscar buzz.
Score: 4 out of 5