For me, one of the biggest takeaways from Suketu Mehta’s “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found” was how, beneath the veneer of the hustling-bustling city of Mumbai, exists a world that usually does not rise above the steaming roads and railway tracks and affect people rushing to get to work or get back home. This world exists, and it has its own rules, own games, own punishments, and most importantly, its own economy. This was one of the most fascinating aspects of a Bombay I hadn’t seen, only heard about. But the money part was even more so, and how it changes hands, lubricates the underside of the city, and yet is never stridulous enough to grab attention of the milling crowd that forms Mumbai and ostensibly drives its economy.
And so it is in “The Drop”, director Michaël R. Roskam’s neat little crime thriller, based on author Dennis Lehane’s short story, “Animal Rescue”. With Lehane writing the screenplay and also an executive producer on this project, “The Drop” opens with a narrative by Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), who, very succinctly tells you how, in Brooklyn, mafia money changes hands, and how, every night, a chosen bar is the drop point. Into this drop point, money is deposited from around the city – money that is never seen, money that never comes into the hands of the working class, and money that comes from, fuels and fires all that is illegal and dangerous. In the meantime, as Bob informs you drily, he tends a bar and waits for his bar to be the drop.
Director Roskam and writer Lehane feed you bits of seemingly disparate information and scenes. You learn that the bar he works in, “Cousin Marv’s”, used to belong to his cousin, Marvin Stipler (James Gandolfini). Now, all that cousin Marv has is the name, having had to sell his bar to the Chechen mob, and Marv is just another bar tender at “Cousin Marv’s.” Right off the bat, you realize Bob’s a nice guy, as he sponsors some regular patrons who’re commemorating the tenth anniversary of the disappearance and apparent murder of another habitué of the bar, a man called Richie Wheelan. Marv on the other hand, scoffs at this entire anniversary thing. One night, as Bob’s going home, he hears the whimper of an animal close by, and upon investigating further, discovers a small puppy in a garage can outside a house. This even as the lady of the house comes out to see Bob peeping into her garbage can. As it turns out, she’s Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a waitress at a local joint, and after initial trepidation, she helps Bob tend to the wounded puppy, even as he asks her to take care of the dog, pleading for time to decide if he can take up this responsibility.
And then, one night, two masked men rob Cousin Marv’s , that gets the deadly Chechen owner, Chovka (Michael Aronov) at Bob and Marv’s heels – he wants his money back. The cops arrive at the scene, headed by Detective Torres (John Ortiz), who’s also very, very curious about what happened to Richie Wheelan that fateful night ten years ago. While this is going on, Bob decides to take the dog in, names it Rocco, even as his friendship with Nadia blossoms into what you hope (for his sake) into something fruitful. Another disconnected piece comes in as one day, when Bob’s taken Rocco out for a walk, a stranger, who he learns later is Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), meets him and tells him that he’s got a fine looking dog. Deeds also later drops another piece of information that chills you and Bob to the bone. Meanwhile, Marv’s warding off his sister’s attempts (Dottie, played by Ann Dowd) to draw him into conversations about their father and the rising hospital bills to keep him alive.
At some point, director Roskam begins to tie all these characters together, and as he peels away layer after layer, you gasp, partly at the connections, partly at how each character begins to show their true depth and purpose. “The Drop” isn’t about a reveal or about any startling story twist. It’s a tightly knit package that unwraps slowly, scene by scene, and grips you in subtly but surely. Director Roskam makes sure you shift uncomfortably in your seat as he shows you the horror of violence, of stalking and being stalked, and he uses soft, dark drama to do that. There’s no car chases or flying fists here, but there’s eye-widening terror for sure. And when you least expect it, he also applies gentle humor as a salve, only to push you into discomfort in the very next scene.
Adding to the atmosphere is composer Marco Beltrami’s background score. Not one scene does the composer overreach or overdo his craft. His music is deadly effective, ominous and effortlessly atmospheric. This is the kind of score that does its job in the background, and all you feel are the tremulous side-effects. Just like a highly effective assassin.
Of the cast, Noomi Rapace as the troubled and haunted Nadia is extremely effective. Her initial suspicion of Tom Hardy’s character, her own violent past catching up with her, and her reaction to the new spurt of violence in her life – she captures all of this superbly. Of all the villains in the movie, Michael Aronov as Chovka is the creepiest. If his Chechen gangster act doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, it’s time to start therapy or begin watching only re-runs of “The Good Dinosaur.”
And there’s James Gandolfini. As cousin Marv, he’s superbly marvelous, understated and absolutely in his character’s skin. He owns the role, as if he were nobody but Marv all his life. He’s great, and it’s heart-wrenching to watch him in “The Drop”, knowing you’re watching his final act on screen, and you miss him that much more. But this movie is owned by Tom Hardy. If ever there’s to be a turning point to be marked in Tom Hardy’s career, “The Drop” will be one of the milestones to note. He approaches his role with a unique sensitivity and empathy that’s to be seen to be believed. He’s gentle, he’s caring, and he’s perfect – even when he wields his gun. As his character faces situations that range from pique to a hint of romance to deathly terror, he faces each of them with a measure of equanimity that can come only from someone who knows his craft in and out.
“The Drop” then, isn’t just about the dog or the doggone money, but about how multiple events that begin and end with money matters and dog ownership, can tie in together to metamorphose into a neat, satisfying thriller of merit.
Watch the trailer of The Drop here: