erik lundegaard

Movie Review: The Drop (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The obvious comparison, and it’s a doozy, is with “On the Waterfront”—and not just because Tom Hardy has taken over the Marlon Brando mantle. OK, a little because of that.

Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, just another bum from the neighborhood. He tends bar at Cousin Marv’s in Brooklyn, buys drinks for the boys toasting a dead friend, lets the old woman on the corner stool run up a tab, and deals with the irascibility of Marv (the late, great James Gandolfini), who used to own the bar before Chechen gangsters took it over about 10 years earlier. He romances—kinda—Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a troubled neighbor girl, but mostly he minds his own business.

Both “Waterfront” and “Drop” have dark moods, a weight of the world, a sense of being trapped. The Drop, with Tom HardyThe cops are no help and the church just reminds you of all the bad you’ve done. Even the actors are similar. Hardy’s hair, and his jacket, match Terry Malloy’s, and of course he exudes that Brando-ness (sans, here, raw sexuality). Rapace, the original ass-kicking Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, doesn’t seem an immediate fit with the virginal Eva Marie Saint, but they actually have a similar high-cheekboned look. And if you’re going to update Rod Steiger, who better than Gandolfini?

More to the point, the key relationship for both Bob and Terry is the older relative—brother Charlie, cousin Marv—and each relationship has a dirty history. Years earlier, favors were asked. Lives, maybe, were ruined. Maybe the asker doesn’t know it yet. Maybe he doesn’t want to know.

These are some of the similarities.

Here’s a key difference: We understand Terry sooner. He’s a bit of a bully—I think of Brando’s great sneer in the back of the church as Father Barry tries to organize the workers—but he’s redeemed by love and courage and by his conscience. But Bob? For much of the movie we can’t figure him out. He seems kinda nice, kinda dumb. But just how nice, and how dumb? Because he really seems dumb. He doesn’t know how to care for a dog? Does he even know how to read? Is he a pushover? Is there something in him? We get flashes of it, don’t we? When Detective Torres (John Ortiz) asks why he never takes communion at St. Rocco’s Church, which they both attend regularly, he responds, “That’s my business,” and something hard comes down over his eyes. At key points throughout the movie we get that: something hard coming down over the innocence and the dumb in his eyes.

Above all, he’s calm. Even when crazy Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts of “Rust and Bone”) enters Bob’s home, and stands there, smirking, dangerous, and demands his dog back—the dog Deeds had beaten and left in a garbage can, which Bob nursed back to health—there’s a calm in Bob’s manner and in his eyes.

And the question we ask ourselves, the question that propels us through the movie, is this: Is he calm because he doesn’t know any better .... or because he does?

Contenders, somebodies
The calm is welcome, by the way. This is one tense movie.

Cousin Marv’s is a drop bar for the Chechen gang, one of many, and one night two punks rob the place. “Do you know what you’re doing?” Marv says. “Do you know who’s money you’re jacking?” Soon after, the Chechens show up with a van and a guy in the back with his foot nail-gunned to the floor. “You know this guy?” they ask. Bob and Marv shake their heads, nervous. Blood drips onto the street like an oil leak. Later, based on a tip Bob was dumb enough (or smart enough?) to tell the cops about the stopped watch on one of the robbers, a plastic bag is hung on the fence in the back alley: it contains the stolen $5,000 and the watch ... still attached to the forearm. Now Marv looks even more worried. He should. He planned the robbery. Not for the $5,000—that was a test-run—but for the biggest haul of the year on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s the day we build towards.

Why is Marv doing it? We get a conversation with his sister in which he worries over expenses for his sick, bedridden father, but I don’t think that’s it. He resents his lost status in the world. Near the end of the movie, in his Archie Bunker chair and in that Tony Soprano whine, he tells Bob about the good ol’ days. “When I walked into a place, people stood up straight! They noticed. I was respected. I was feared.” He talks about the corner stool that used to be his. “That meant something!” he cries. Bob responds, as calm as ever, but a little more insistent, a little more cutting: “But it didn’t. Ever. It was just a stool.” It’s a great scene.

This is another difference with “On the Waterfront”: Terry Malloy’s resentment about where he wound up isn’t in Bob; it’s in Marv. Terry tells Charlie,  “I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody,” while it’s Marv who tells Bob, “I was a contender, I was somebody.” Which is why he does what he does.

Bob? “I just tend the bar.” What about the Chechen gang? “I’m not this. And I’m not them.”

But he doesn’t just tend bar.

The original sin in “On the Waterfront” isn’t a murder, although we see enough of those; it’s the brotherly betrayal: Charlie telling his brother to take a dive against Wilson. It’s Cain going for the price against Abel. Terry’s life was never the same after that.

The original sin in “The Drop” also took place years earlier. But to discuss that properly, we have to go back to crazy Eric Deeds.

Not clean
First, Schoenaerts is amazing here. Is there best supporting actor talk? For him or for Galdolfini? Or Hardy for best actor? There should be. For all three. There should at least be talk.

At first, we assume Deeds is part of the Chechen gang, tagging after Bob, making his life miserable. But he’s just an awful person. He likes fucking with people. There’s a palpable menace to him, and the fact that Bob doesn’t buckle under it is the first time we sense Bob’s strength—or his stupidity. But Deeds is too stupid, or too crazy, to realize that Bob didn’t buckle. He keeps at him. He wants the dog and the girl back. Yeah. He used to go out with Nadia but she broke free from him. He probably put the dog in her trash can as a final fuck you; instead it brought together Bob and Nadia.

A lot of the tension in the movie revolves around this pit bull puppy. He’s cute and helpless and we think something bad is going to happen to him, because bad things tend to happen to the helpless in gangster movies. The rumor is that Deeds killed a guy 10 years ago—“Glory Days,” whom the guys at the bar were toasting at the beginning of the movie—and if he can do that, what won’t he do? So Bob is trying to deal with all of this at the same time he’s trying to deal with Marv. Then his problems merge. The Chechens kill the stopped-watch guy, Marv kills the other (running him over brutally), so he needs someone else for the heist. He chooses Deeds. That’s who winds up at the bar on Super Bowl Sunday.

And here, beautifully, the movie shifts slightly on its axis and everything falls into place. Background information from the first act suddenly has meaning in the third.

The old woman on the corner stool? The mother of “Glory Days,” who was killed, not by Deeds (although he took the street credit), but by Bob. For Marv. That’s the original sin. That’s why Bob goes to St. Rocco’s every day and why he can’t take communion, and why he buys drinks for the boys and lets the old woman run up a tab. And that’s why he’s calm in the face of Deeds’ antics. He knows his rep is just that.

Here’s one of the things I love about this movie: The resolution to Bob’s troubles is as we’d want it—a lone man using violence to achieve justice—but it’s not clean. In that moment of confrontation in the bar, something crazy is revealed in Bob’s eyes and in his manner, and he actually frightens Nadia away. He saves her only to lose her.  Most movies give us this moment as cleanly as possible. Most Hollywood movies anyway. Does it help that “The Drop” not only isn’t Hollywood but it isn’t really American? Sure, Galdofini, and sure, the screenwriter is Denis Lehane, who wrote “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone.” But Hardy’s British, Rapace Swedish, and Schoenaerts and director Michaël R. Roskam are Belgian. They’ve made a thoroughly American movie in the most American of locales with a European sensibility. It’s one of the best movies of the year.

Nah
At the end we get this great monologue from Bob. It’s his “contender” speech, but less self-pitying, more hopeless:

There are some sins that you can’t come back from, you know? No matter how hard you try. You just can’t, you know. It’s like the Devil is waiting for your body to give up because he knows … he knows that he already owns your soul. Then, I think maybe, you know, there is no Devil. You die, and God, he says, “Nah … Nah, you can’t come in. You have to leave now. You have to leave and go away, and you have to be alone. You have to be alone forever.”

The way Tom Hardy says “Nah” in this scene. I go to the movies for moments like that.

Did Lehane and Roskam ruin it at the end? The redemption they give Bob? His reprieve and reconciliation? I might not have done it, but it doesn’t ruin it. “The Drop” is too good to ruin.

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Posted at 06:24 AM on Fri. Oct 10, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014  

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