The following is a full spoiler discussion of The Drop. You have been warned.
The sparseness of the post-summer, pre-fall movie season continued this week, but wasn’t nearly so bad as the last few. And really, if you hadn’t heard of The Drop and we told you that a movie starring Tom Hardy (Warrior, Locke), James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), and Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) was headed to theaters, wouldn’t you take notice? Well that’s exactly what’s happened! So if you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, go give it a shot – it’s pretty good – and then come back here and join in my postgame breakdown of the film with Erik Paschall.
Tim: So to jump right in: it’s kind of surprising to me how quietly this movie snuck into theaters. I mean, Tom Hardy may not be the same kind of recognizable name or box office draw as, say, Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio, but combined with the fact that this was one of James Gandolfini’s last films and that Noomi Rapace (another not-draw, but quality actor) is in it, I can’t believe this didn’t get a harder marketing push in the lead up to its release.
Erik: Oddly enough, from what I remember about the trailers for the film, none of them brought up the fact that it was Gandolfini’s last. And to be honest, until I did research, I thought that romantic comedy film he did (the name escapes me) was his last. In fact, I thought that was how they had promoted it (the romance).
Tim: I believe that was Enough Said, with Julia Louie-Dreyfuss. So one of his last, it did release after his death. But yes, it was weird. And it’s not like there was a lot for it to compete with, either. I guess the biggest competitor was No Good Deed, the Idris Elba starrer. Other than that this week you had a limited release of The Skeleton Twins, which figures to have a limited wide appeal anyways, and Dolphin Tale 2.
Erik: Well, besides a lack of mentioning the whole last film thing, the advertising for this was incredibly misleading. I went in expecting a gritty crime pic like the Departed. I wonder, did someone in Fox Searchlight’s marketing department seriously drop the ball with this one?
Tim: I’ve got to cop to not seeing any of the trailers, but it was kind of funny, right? Almost like the Rocky of gangster movies. It’s about the crime/gangster stuff, sure, but it’s just as much about the romance.
Erik: Hadn’t thought about that, but you know, I was thinking, if you took out most of the stuff dealing with dropoffs, crime, and whatnot – plus that whole third act – the parts with Rapace and Hardy could have been a cute little romance film.
Tim: I think you’ve got something there. But that starts to get into one of the things I found most interesting about this movie – the way it’s plotted. It’s based on a Dennis Lehane short story, I know, but I’m kind of curious now how closely it sticks to that. Especially through the first half of the film, it feels like there are multiple movies going on – the bit with Bob and Nadia (Hardy and Rapace) and the bit at Cousin Marv’s bar with the robbery and the Chechens. And then the bit with the police officer, too, that’s sprinkled in here and there.
Erik: It feels like it’s based on a book or short story. I wonder – having not read the story – how much of those bits were either stretched out compared to their source material, or completely added in – to fill time or otherwise. That said, I didn’t think they were poorly executed, directed, shot, or acted, but I agree that sometimes it felt like I was watching multiple movies.
Tim: And that’s the part that struck me as a little strange. Most of the time when a movie is adapted from literature, it feels like the story has to be condensed or rushed. This sort of the opposite. Maybe the movie cut out most of the plot with the police officer and that’s why that part felt tacked on, but that felt more like a bit of fat to me than something essential. One of the best parts of this movie for me was that it managed to stay very small, very intimate. It’s all taking place within this one New York neighborhood, and really doesn’t have any implications for people outside of that.
Erik: I feel like that may have played into one of the themes – one I saw, at least – which was the pettiness of even organized crime. One of my favorite things about the picture was that it deconstructed a lot of the glamour films often bestow upon crime and criminals. I think Gandolfini’s Cousin Marv embodied that.
Tim: Sure, and Bob, too. He spends so much of the movie just this meek good-ol’-boy, but when he’s really pushed and he has to do something unsavory, he doesn’t really like it. As he says, he just tends bar. Most of the time, that’s 100% true.
Erik: Both Bob and Marv subvert expectations. There’s the old film trope, “The Retired Badass.” See: anything Clint Eastwood did past the 1980’s. When the film starts you get the impression that’s what Marv is – a former mobster past his prime. But then you learn it’s all talk, and Bob’s the badass – not that he enjoys being one.
Tim: See, that’s really interesting to me, because while I agree with you and I love the characterization there, it’s also one of the things that contributes most to some of the narrative dissonance I felt. The way that Bob and Marv are broken down, keeping close to familiar types but bending them just enough to be (mostly) fresh and interesting, it contributes to a very realist tone through the movie. I’ll go back to the small nature of the film, too. Most people live their lives in just a few blocks of the world. They have their routines and they go about them. So that’s all great. But then there are these incredibly happenstantial bits. There’s the character Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) who seems just a little too connected to everyone. And then the happy ending, especially, felt like where the plot was always driving, but in an “I expect it because this is a movie” sort of way. It felt just a little too neat. The particular examples escape me at the moment, but there were several other moments like this. The dog park where Nadia just happens to run by, before hooking a U-turn and running back the way she just came from instead of continuing on her run. For me, I enjoyed the film, but it felt like the sort of thing that becomes a minor cult hit in a college dorm (“Dude, you’ve got to see this movie!”) but isn’t ever really great.
Erik: I can’t entirely disagree. While Deeds’ connections didn’t bother me, as I figured in this small community everyone couldn’t help but be connected, but yeah some of it (like the dog park) was a little too convenient for the narrative. It’s funny (apparently many things are, regarding this film) your thought about it becoming a cult hit, I had a similar thought about Out of the Furnace last year. Both films are rather slow builds that rest mostly on their respective actors’ performances. If I was to recommend this to anyone, I think the biggest selling point would be the performances of Hardy and Gandolfini – and maybe the subversions and deconstructions for any literary-minded folks.
Tim: There’s a limit to the stock I put by the character type subversions because while this movie certainly does some of that, that’s never where its focus seems to be. But on the note of the performances, I’m completely with you. Hardy in particular. He’s channelling something not altogether different from his work in Warrior, but it’s got a new spin on that. And when you lay it next to his work in Locke and Inception and even The Dark Knight Rises, you begin to get a picture of a very rangy actor. Side note – I think he nailed the accent here, which is also pretty cool to consider when you compare it to the films above.
Erik: Maybe that was the problem with the marketing, the film doesn’t follow things straight enough, and you’d have to know what they’re subverting to fully appreciate the performances. How do you market that? “Hardy and Gandolfini are awesome because they don’t do what you expect them to do.”
Tim: I think that’s exactly when you market the movie as a straight, if small scale, gangster flick. If you have audiences going in expecting that, and they initially play to type, then you have something when the break it.
Erik: That is essentially how they are marketing it.
Tim: And at that point you’re back to the question of, Why didn’t they push it harder? My guess is that since it’s definitely not an awards run film, Fox Searchlight didn’t want to but too much of their marketing budget for the year into it.
Erik: It’s a pity, because in my opinion Hardy deserves to at least be nominate for something for this.
Tim: Not sure I can quite go there with you. I think it’s a good performance, but there’s nothing dynamic enough for me to believe it’s going to end up being one of the best of the year.
Erik: You might be right, but I do hope he gets a little recognition for it.
Tim: Before we wrap up here, I do want to talk a little about the other main actor that we haven’t done more than mention yet – Noomi Rapace. We probably haven’t said anything because there’s not really much to her role, so what I’m really driving at, I suppose, is the portrayal of women in this film. There were, by my count, a grand total of four women in the entire film, and that’s if you’re including a two second glimpse of a bartender and a very slightly longer look at an old drunk. This film certainly does not pass the Bechdel test, or to my eye any other feminist barometer you’d care to measure it with.
Erik: Yeah on that point it doesn’t subvert anything. That’s really just how films about gangsters typically are. Women really only exist in this film to nag, be love interests, or to remind us they exist. It’s a pity Dennis Lehane – who wrote both the short story and the script – didn’t do more with her, especially considering what a strong character Michelle Monaghan played in Gone Baby Gone – also adapted from a piece of Lehane work, though he didn’t write the movie’s script for that one.
Tim: It didn’t actually bother me for a bunch of the movie. I was aware that there weren’t many female characters, but it was Bob’s and Marv’s story, after all. At least in her relationship with Bob, Nadia was nuanced enough. Or else the slow burn of their developing relationship gave enough of that impression. But where it really bugged me was when Eric essentially kidnaps her and uses her as collateral. There’s a very strong expression of ownership going on there, and while it makes sense to Eric’s character, there’s nothing Nadia’s able to do to stop him. When there’s a strong enough male will present, she loses all agency. I guess to be more accurate, what didn’t bother me about her relationship with Bob was that he did acknowledge her as a person, and she is instrumental in leading some of his growth as a character. She has full capacity to act. And maybe that sounds a little bad because it implies that Bob granted her that right, so maybe the film is still at fault and should have had more female characters to counteract that sort of implication. But at least in the one case of her relationship with Bob there were no ill effects. Not so with the climax of the film, which rubbed me a bit the wrong way.
Erik: I did like her reaction to Bob’s “reveal.” I thought it was completely sensible. It’s not like she fell right into his arms afterwards. In fact, I thought the ending was relatively ambiguous regarding where their relationship would go.
Tim: Completely agree on her reaction to Bob shooting Eric in the face. Traumatic event, and she reacted accordingly. But I would have been completely ok with the movie ending there. I think it’s pretty clear that they were re-engaging their budding romance at the end of the movie, and while I’m happy for Bob, it felt kind of cheap at the same time.
Erik: I would have been just fine with it ending there too, but I don’t have any real problems with where it did end. I found it ambiguous.
Tim: Fair enough. So, final thoughts: if you were to have given this film a score, what would it have been, and why?
Erik: 3 out of 5. I can’t in good conscious give a score lower than three to a film that made me want to see it a second time. I would love to go back and study Bob – or more specifically Hardy playing Bob – now that I know about his true nature. Also the film’s Money Shot – the literal shooting – was great, but it’s a bit of a slow build to get there. In a way, the film’s like a long (sometimes dull) joke that eventually leads to a great punchline – a punchline that changes the way you think about the rest of the joke. It’s not a heavy award winner, and it won’t change your life, but if you want to see some strong performances, or the novelty of James Gandolfini’s final film, you could do a lot worse.
Tim: I’m sitting at a 3 out of 5 as well, and to me this is pretty much the definition of that score. I enjoyed the movie and would have no problem recommending it. The characters are nuanced enough to be interesting, and for the most part the plot is tightly constructed. There are still some significant tonal and narrative issues, and I don’t think the vision for the film is anything that rises above similar films that have come before it, but those problems aren’t ones that hold it back from telling its story pretty darn well.
Erik: And hey, if you want a nice date movie, just edit out all the parts with the criminals.