The Drop is a fidgety, inauthentic thriller. Based on a short story by Dennis Lehane titled “Animal Rescue” (a more intriguing, specific title), The Drop refers to a drop point for criminals to store and hold their money, and this crooked, filmic affair is about two Brooklyn boys running one of those holding pens. The place, specifically, is Uncle Marv’s, a dive bar in Brooklyn. Meet Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, in his last role), and Bob (Tom Hardy). They’re small time, has-been, sad fellas.
Pitched as a character painting about low-level thugs and their hopes and hokum, The Drop is a premise with good intentions mired in trope and familiarity. Woulda-beens, withholding psychopaths, local witticisms, blue-collar misery, evil exes, garbage accents, mixed motives, twists, robberies, ethnic stereotypes; The Drop is by the book, despite its phenomenal and lurid resources.
Actually, wait, you know what’s interesting here? A sub-plot about an abandoned boxer puppy being raised by Bob. That’s the best thing The Drop has going for it, even if it’s a heavy-handed bit of humanizing. The puppy’s gosh-darn cute, and he represents second chances!
Marv’s is robbed in the first 15 minutes. It’s a staple of crime fiction of late (Dog Day Afternoon, Inside Man, The Killing, After the Sunset, even The Dark Knight opens with a robbery), because it’s an easy way to get a plot moving. Not a fault, but, when a robbery is at the beginning of a movie, expect it to have problems and consequences, acting as an excuse to explore what motivates desperate people.
Bob and Marv are beside themselves. They figure because of their middle-men status the Chechens they front will give the pair a pass and handle the robbery inside the syndicate. Not the case. Bob and Marv are in the hot seat and have to fix the situation.
From there, it’s plain mob movie stuff; accusations and intimidations and bullets and bad boy stuff. The Drop rushes through familiar turf, too fast to let the audience dig in to subplot. Rushing from beat to beat, The Drop relies on genre reflexes to help pad out paper-thin storytelling. By the end, you don’t really care why the robbery happened or how it affected the people in this place because it’s all so moot. Just know that Tom Hardy cares for a cute puppy, even if it’s an obvious plot device not dissimilar to The Sopranos or 25th Hour.
What sustains The Drop is the willing star power, despite their shallow predilections. Bob is sort of a simpleton. Hardy lays on a thick East Coast accent so exhausting that his playing dumb during the whole movie just elicits laughs. Since 2010’s Inception, the guy’s been figuring out what kind of star he can be. Hardy wants to be a character actor with leading man looks and status, but Bob is such a non-win for that mold. He never looks people in the eyes and speaks smokily, just monkeying with viewers looking for something opaque. The 36-year-old British actor puts in the effort, even if his role doesn’t bring any returns.
Gandolfini, as Marv, makes the most out of a familiar role. You’ve seen guys with long-lost aspirations and physical presence like Gandolfini. He looks big, heavy, and exhausted here. Tony Soprano had the makings of a varsity athlete, and Gandolfini sold it. Gandolfini was an ace in portraying anxiety despite stature to the end. But here, the Marv persona is such a carbon copy of prior sad flunkies that it’s a testament to the actor’s skills and graces that he could still drop some personality.
At its best, The Drop is about failed dreams, or long, deep friendship, or some other generic crime conceit. Gandolfini and Hardy will allow audiences to pick and choose what this movie is about as they see fit.