Don’t mess with Bob Saginowski. Or his dog.
How Bob comes to care for a beaten-up pup is the happy part of “The Drop” a slow-burning crime drama in which a working class bar doubles as a money drop location for a Russian crime syndicate.
Bob’s the bartender. He’s a quiet guy and forever present. Tom Hardy plays him with a deep, perpetual stare – intelligent, thoughtful and observant. As a hard-working reliable sort he guards the dirty money that gets dropped at the bar from time to time.
James Gandolfini, in his final film performance, plays Bob’s cousin Marv, the bar’s former owner and gang leader who lost the business in a turf war with the Russians. Nearly nine years later Marv’s name is still on the bar, he’s still on the payroll but holding a heavy grudge. He’s equally angered and intimidated by his foreign bosses, forever cranky and conniving, constantly lamenting his downfall while keeping close tabs on Bob.
For Bob, life is pouring shots, slinging beers and keeping things tidy. Circumstances change somewhat when he rescues a whining, bloodied pup from a trash can. The dog appeals to Bob’s sensitive side and, by virtue of being found in her garbage pail, introduces Bob to the lovely Nadia (Noomi Rapace).
Nadia has criminal connections of her own by way of her ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), a crazed petty thief who bumps his street cred by claiming to have murdered a kid who disappeared a decade earlier. Eric is the dog’s rightful owner and the one who beat and left it for dead. Bob learns of the connection when Eric stalks and blackmails him. Either Bob pays up or the dog gets it, again.
While the blackmail scheme plays out, dumbass thieves who robbed the bar have ambitious plans to return on a night that money gets dropped. There is a strange undercurrent to it all, and Bob can sense it. He’s use to the local riff-raff acting out their petty grievances, but based on past experience he’s worried that cousin Marv may be up to something. Something that Bob can’t clean up.
Crime novelist Dennis Lehane has a talent for writing gritty stories that when adapted to film give good actors great moments on the big screen. With “The Drop” he, for the first time in his career, has written the film adaptation of his own published material. What initially failed as a novel, became a short story entitled “Animal Rescue” from which Lehane wrote “The Drop” screenplay and subsequent movie tie-in book.
Lehane claims to have written “The Drop” with James Gandolfini in mind. It shows. Gandolfini embodies a full dimensional character, lovingly shaped by a writer who understands what happens to people when they lose their identity.
Gandolfini’s scenes with Hardy are the best of the film. They arrive as a delicious, chewy core to an otherwise crusty outer story. While Hardy play Bob at the moral center, Gandolfini’s Marv is a reluctant has-been, a tough, sad character who has only memories of the glory days and a good shot of whiskey to grace his day. Together they are like another Hardy screen duo – Laurel and Hardy. No comedy, just determined talk about survival. Their dialogue is the only key to what eventually happens at the bar. Cleverly written, their conversations don’t lay specific clues, just build the suspense for an edge-of-your-seat reckoning.
Like so many of Lehane’s stories, “The Drop” is a testament to people at the bottom of the pay scale, hard-working and persistent despite being beaten down by folly, hard luck, and violence. Stuff happens. When it does, guys like Bob are there to clean up the mess, get the girl, and take care of the dog.
Directed by Michael R. Roskam. Written by Dennis Lehane, based on his short story “Animal Rescue.” Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
Cast: Tom Hardy (Bob), Noomi Rapace (Nadia), James Gandolfini (Cousin Marv), Matthias Schoenaerts (Eric Deeds), John Ortiz (Detective Torres), Michael Aronov (Chovka), James Frecheville (Fitz).