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Non-Review Review: The Drop

It is suggested that hell is other people. Perhaps not so much. Perhaps hell is the absence of other people. Towards the end of The Drop, a character ruminates on the idea of eternal damnation – suggesting that hell is nothing but eternal emptiness, a cosmic echo chamber where the damned are left with nothing but their own sense of isolation. Maybe that is what damnation is, nothing but an individual’s own loathing and self-doubt reflected back them, amplified through the darkness.

The Drop is a tense and claustrophobic thriller. The bulk of the action unfolds around the small world as Bob knows it. Bob is a simple man. He works at a small dive, “Cousin Marv’s Place.” When asked tough questions, he simply answers, “I just tend bar.” As Bob explains, the dive bar occasionally serves as a “drop” for all the money laundered through local crime. Bob doesn’t know where it comes from or where it goes. He is only aware of it when it comes into his care and when it leaves.

It's a dog's life...

It’s a dog’s life…

The Drop is a story about isolation and loneliness. Characters reflect on their place in the world, trying to make sense of what unfolds around them. Most are unknowable to each other, mysteries and enigmas. Asked a personal question, Bob replies, “That’s my business.” When his friend Nadia asks why Bob never inquired about her own very obvious scars, Bob simply answers, “I figure that’s your business.” The world as Bob knows it is a small place. Maybe it’s constantly getting smaller.

Adapted by Dennis Lehane from his own short story Animal Rescue, The Drop wallows in its own sense of lost direction and impending doom. Michaël R. Roskam’s direction never rushes the story or the actors, allowing the film time to take in the emptiness and hollowness in this small world that briefly intersects with something much bigger and more unpleasant. Perhaps a little too stately and relaxed in places, The Drop is nevertheless an atmospheric delight.

Just Cous...

Just Cous…

Bob works at the bar owned by Marv. “He is actually my cousin,” he jokingly assures Nadia during one particularly intimate conversation. Marv used to be somebody, by his own measure of the world. People used to sit up straight when he came into the room. Marv used to have his own stool at the bar. Marv used to own his little corner of the world. Now, he doesn’t even own his own bar – despite the fact that his name is still above the door.

Then outsiders came in and took it. Now Marv and Bob simply hold down the bar as a service to the Chechen mob. Marv’s world view is so narrow that he doesn’t even know what to call them. “Chechnyans,” he suggests – only for Bob to correct him. (“You don’t call people from Ireland Irelandians,” Bob muses.) Marv lacks a willingness to look outside himself, to see beyond himself and his own world. He lives with his sister Dotti, who suggests a trip to Europe. “We could see things,” she suggests. “Other ways.”

A pet peeve...

A pet peeve…

Instead, Marv is too focused on his own little world. When Bob finds something unpleasant waiting for them, Marv refuses to look at it. “I don’t need to see Europe,” he assures Bob. “I don’t need to see Dotti. And I don’t need to see whatever’s in the f$&kin’ bag.” Marv and Bob run a bar in the Bronx, a cultural melting pot at the heart of New York. However, nobody seems willing to look beyond themselves.

It seems that the bar may as well be the whole world. When Detective Torres starts asking tough questions about the local watering hole, the patrons get a little uptight. “Cousin Marv’s Place?” one asks. “That’s my bar. Don’t f%$k with my bar.” Everybody has their own little piece of the world, that piece the can call their own. The Drop is very much about Bob trying to figure out exactly what his part of the world entails.

Raining cats and dogs...

Raining cats and dogs…

The Drop is an ironic piece of work. Lehane and Roskam have a wry sense of humour. The film is couched in American iconography and imagery. The story unfolds in the Bronx, and the climax takes place during the Super Bowl. At one point during the evening, we see a large American flag waving on the screen. Given the movie’s themes about everybody’s little corner of the world, it cannot help but evoke the great American passport myth – the popular belief that Americans are less likely to travel abroad.

However, the film teases the audience about this. The Drop might be written by one of American’s most popular pulpy writers, but it is helmed by a Belgian director. The characters may all be American and local, but the casting is diverse. Tom Hardy is British. Noomi Rapace is Swedish. Matthias Schoenaerts is Belgian. Three of the four above-title cast are not American. The Drop seems to be smirking ironically at the audience.

Drinking it all in...

Drinking it all in…

The Drop is as cynical and grim as one might expect from a Dennis Lehane story. It is populated with washed up and directionless failures, as character contemplate the meaningless nature of their continued existence. “We are f&%kin’ dead men,” Marv reflects at one point. “We’re just still walking around.” At another point, a character asks jumped-up thug Eric Deeds what exactly he wants. “What kind of question is that?” Deeds answers, defensively. “How do I know what I want?”

Roskam has assembled a fantastic ensemble. A great deal of attention will be focused on James Gandolfini – and deservingly so. In many ways, Gandolfini is playing the same sort of character he played in Killing Them Softly. He is a character struggling to make do with what he has in the world, trying to make sense of it all and dealing with his own rapidly diminishing sense of self-importance. Gandolfini infuses Marv with a palpable desperation that makes him all too human and all too relatable.

A boy and his dog...

A boy and his dog…

However, it is Hardy and Rapace who largely anchor the film. Rapace plays a vulnerable young waitress who happens into Bob’s life by accident. Rapace defines Nadia as a survivor, a character who has internalised a lot of the same anxieties eating at the male characters around her. Hardy plays Bob as a character that is very tough to read. Bob could easily become a trite cinematic cliché, a familiar archetype of the strong silent seemingly-simple-but-actually-deadly leading man. Instead, he is inscrutable and fascinating.

There are points where The Drop seems to linger a little too long – where it gets a little too lost in its own sense of isolation and listlessness. There is a sense that perhaps the movie might have been tightened or tweaked slightly, smoothed just a little bit. The Drop occasionally feels a little indulgent and relaxed. However, it is never dull. The central performances anchor the film, and Lehane and Roskam conspire to create an ever-mounting sense of dread.

A walk in the park...

A walk in the park…

There’s also a sense that Lehane loads his script a little too heavily with metaphor and imagery. When Bob takes in an adorable little boxer pup – noting that it is “a dangerous dog” – you immediately get the sense that it isn’t just the dog that he is trying to redeem. Similarly, as Marv contemplates whether his own experience counts as a life, he also finds himself struggling to pay the bills for a father who is living on life support. These metaphors are effective, but occasionally overwhelming.

The Drop is a powerful and morose noir. It is a story about how our own little worlds often blind us to the larger one around us.

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2 Responses

  1. Good review Darren. A very well-acted movie, which is why it’s totally worth watching. Even if the plot is, yes, quite conventional.

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