‘The Drop’ Review: So Good It’s Criminal

Michael R. Roskam’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Belgian crime drama Bullhead is a double threat: not only is it a sharp, intelligent, and beautifully acted tale of complex, shady morality, but it also includes multiple scenes of the impossibly studly Tom Hardy playing with a cute widdle puppy. I guess Hollywood really has been reading my letters. Next time I’ll have to ask for a million dollars too.

The puppy is a crucial component of The Drop, not just an emotional cheap shot. As Bob Saginowski, a mild-mannered Brooklyn bartender, Hardy plays a man who seems to think he doesn’t deserve to be loved. A chance encounter with a beat up dog in a trash can brings him face-to-face with his own self-image, and also with a woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace) who only starts to trust him when she sees how unassuming and adorable Bob can be when placed in a position to care for a helpless creature. The dog, named Rocco (Bob preferred “Mike” but he got outvoted by Nadia and the puppy), is everything to Bob. He’ll do anything to protect it, or else what kind of a man is he?

Related: See an Exclusive Gallery from ‘The Drop’

Good question. The world of The Drop is steeped in local history. Long-cold murder mysteries still permeate the local conversations, and his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), who runs the bar, still lives in the shadow of his former glory. Marv was a big man in the neighborhood before the Chechen mafia moved in and took over. They use Marv’s bar as a money drop for local bookkeeping and who knows what else, so when a pair of dumb local thugs rip the place off it’s a cause for alarm. Can Marv and Bob be trusted with the money? If not, what good are they?

Tightening the noose around Bob is a disturbing x-factor named Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), who claims the dog is his and wants it back. He doesn’t promise to take better care of it this time, and he makes his argument with acts of trespassing and barely veiled threats. The mob can be trusted to act in their best interests, and take care of their own. Deeds may just be the kind of psychopath who responds to placation with an escalation in violence. What is Bob to do with all of this stress in his life?

The Drop takes place in a oppressively casual criminal environment; this is just the way things are, and minding your own business isn’t always an option. Tom Hardy plays Bob with an almost shockingly unassuming nature; he’s unrecognizable from the charming psychopath we met in Bronson or the confident political monster of The Dark Knight Rises. There’s a fragility to Bob, and we clench our teeth in mounting suspense as we wait to see what happens when he breaks.

The Drop is a nearly flawless crime thriller, subtle when it needs to be and dramatically overwhelming at just the right punctuation marks. James Gandolfini, in what will now be his final motion picture performance, imbues his character with the heft of many rich years. It’s a touching, frustrated and sly portrayal that bolsters Hardy’s own masterful performance. We get the sense, rare in even some of the greatest films, that every day these two have spent together before the cameras rolled has meant something, and that it is being reflected in their grudging acceptance of each other. The suspenseful story that Michael R. Roskam and screenwriter Dennis Lehane weave around them is billowy at first but begins to gradually constrict. 

We expect them to suffocate. Maybe they’ll break free. Whatever happens next I refuse to describe, other than to say that The Drop had me cheering. It’s a complete, satisfying and wonderful motion picture; an unexpected and exceptional tale of criminality. And that dog is just plain adorable.

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.