MOVIE REVIEW: The Drop

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"THE DROP"--2 STARS

Something tells me a great many people are going to see the top-billed cast of Tom Hardy, Noomi Repace, and the late James Gandolfini for the "The Drop" and feel like they better eat their Wheaties and strap in tight for a fierce collision thriller of those personalities.  All three actors are highly known for their dynamic resumes filled with gritty, wild, and dangerous performances in films like "Bronson" and "Warrior" for Hardy, the original "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy for Repace, and years of "The Sopranos" on television for Gandolfini.  None of them get overwhelming remarks for their quaint and cute roles, other than James Gandolfini's fine and award-worthy romantic turn last fall in "Enough Said."  Ladies, don't even nominate "This Means War" for Hardy on that quaint and cute part either.  The film has to be good and not garbage.

Anyway, that same astute crowd will then look past the top line and see that "The Drop" is written by Dennis Lehane.  With a vitae of "Mystic River," "Gone Baby Gone," and "Shutter Island," his name too cements the possibility of coiled intensity for this film.  The combination should call for a strong stomach and an iron heart.

It is of great surprise that, for me, all I kept thinking about during "The Drop" was Michael Madsen's response-begging question from Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" as Mr. Blonde:  "Are you going to bark all day or are you going to bite?"  For too much of "The Drop," a seemingly record number of bushes are being beaten around.  Don't get me wrong.  A dialogue-driven and slow-boiling premise can work and has worked, worlds over, but it has to deliver at some point.  "The Drop" does have a sly ending in mind and at play, a great scene really, but it doesn't match or make up for the tedious lead-up.  Considering the talent involved, I expected more.

Tom Hardy dials all of his known fire down to a birthday candle to play Bob Saginowski, an unassuming bartender in the tough side of New York.  He pushes drinks at Cousin Marv's, a formerly self-respecting bar that used to be owned by its namesake, Bob's cousin Marv, played by Gandolfini.  Several years ago, Marv was pushed out of owning the place by local Chechen gangsters.  They have retained Marv and Bob's services, but the place has been reduced to a "drop bar" where authorities don't sniff around and money gets shuffled through for bigger and greater criminal things.  Marv has been endlessly frustrated by his demotion and lost respect.  

Bob flies under the radar as a slow-speaking loner and turns a blind eye to the real issues that happen in front of him.  Two moments of fate shift things in a new direction for Bob.  First, the bar is held up at gunpoint one night and the drop money is taken.  That brings the Chechen mob in to demand what's been lost and a chummy local detective (John Ortiz from "Fast and Furious" and "Silver Linings Playbook") looking to connect the crime dots.  Second, on a cold winter night, Bob hears and finds an abused pit bull puppy in the trash of a neighborhood home.  The resident is Nadia (Repace), a woman of obvious damaged goods and trust issues.  She helps Bob nurse the dog to health and they become friends, which upsets her ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (up and coming and imposing Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts of "Rust and Bone").

The nature of the movement of money and the ties between seedy neighborhood characters are what drive the tension of dramatic irony of "The Drop,"  Characters have internal motivations and external plans that steer around each other, some obvious and some not so obvious.  When these ingredients intersect in the climax, they all become much more important.  What occurs is interesting and written with detail.  I'll grant that.  You won't be checking your watch.  However, too little of it, even with increased importance, resonates.  I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the most compelling character you will want find out the fate all the way to the end credits is the adopted puppy.  For that, I felt like I was watching a sequel to the expressive, borrowed cat from "Inside Llewyn Davis" and that's no good at all.

The trio of headliners each do their best to underplay every single thing they do to throw you off any scent as to what their intentions truly are.  It's too much really and the compelling nature of any one of them is lost to question marks, stoic stares, and puppy love.  Even the film's most supposedly volatile character, Schoenaerts's Deeds, is a Vicks Nyquil dose away from having his winter weather growl suppressed.  His talent then gets wasted too.

It's fair that Hardy, Repace, and Gandolfini are trying to not be the uncaged animals we expect of them.  I respect that desire and challenge to repress the rage and play mysterious, much like how motormouth Sam Rockwell squelched his tendencies to play a quieter character in "A Single Shot" last year.  Nevertheless, someone needed to raise the film's temperature.  All three couldn't have been cold soup, but they were.  It's a shame too because "The Drop" is the last feature film we'll get of James Gandolfini.  To remember him better, rewind to "Killing Them Softly" and "Enough Said."  Both are better than this.

LESSON #1: THE CLASSIC LONER MENTALITY AND BACKSTORY-- Lehane, to his credit as the screenwriter, does give Hardy's Bob some purposely shaded character layers, like making him living alone in his deceased parents' house and move about as a struggling Catholic that attends every mass, but never takes communion.  Those are nice hues and details to the typical loner modus operandi.  The same can be said for Nadia done by Repace.  She too is painted with intentional colors, but also falls under the loner category of hang-ups and secrets.  My mother always said be wary of the quiet ones.

LESSON #2: SOMETHING SOMETHING SINS AND SOMETHING SOMETHING PAST-- Extended from the broad strokes of Lesson #1, all three of our main characters silently scream having deep and dark problems in their past.  Despite massive underacting, it's incredibly obvious that past sins weigh heavily on Bob, Nadia, and Marv.  None are shocking or compelling. This is where the cold soup returns to dull resonance and make things feels weak or cliche, much like the title of this lesson.

LESSON #3: WHAT THE UNASSUMING ARE CAPABLE OF-- I'll circle back to my final line of Lesson #1 and take that further,  When I say watch out for the quiet ones, it's true.  In any scenario, you truly don't know what people are capable of, especially those that are alone, quiet, and hard to read,  When pushed or tested, they may prove stronger, tougher, and more capable than you give them credit for.  Never assume weakness in the unassuming.  Give them pause to show their measure.

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