Here’s a film that came in under my radar, although I had vaguely heard of director Michaël R. Roskam’s previous film, Bullhead (Rundskop, 2011). This is a sharp little piece of modern film noir, with a screenplay by Dennis Lehane adapting one of his own short stories. It reminded me a little bit of God’s Pocket, with its focus on lower class urban characters, but instead of focusing on losers with delusions of grandeur The Drop centers on an apparently slightly simple-minded Brooklyn bartender who is more than he seems … perhaps even to himself.
The basic set-up concerns Bob (Tom Hardy) and Marv (James Gandolfini), who run a bar in Brooklyn that’s occasionally used as a drop-off point for cash collected by a Chechen gang. One night the bar is robbed by two guys wearing masks, and Bob and Marv are on the hook to the Chechens for five thousand dollars. Simultaneously Bob discovers an abused pit bull pup in a garbage can and decides to rescue it with the help of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), who is the owner of the garbage can. Then it turns out that the pup belongs to Nadia’s psychotic ex-boyfriend, Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), who brags about how he murdered who was last seen in the bar ten years ago.
Roskam is Belgian, and one of the interesting things about this movie is how many international actors it has in the cast, including the British Hardy, Swedish Rapace, Belgian Schoenaerts (last seen in these parts in the French film Rust and Bone), and the Australian James Frecheville. It’s a great cast, with interesting characters who are all familiar hard-scrabble types but nicely drawn. The movie isn’t trying to be more than it is, which is a tough, smart little story about the mean streets. It gains effectiveness from its lack of pretension.
I’ve called it film noir, and that’s partly because of the kind of crime film it is but also partly because of the look of thing. The cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis is subtly striking. It looks digital, but the lighting and use of shadow and darkness are quite beautiful in an unflashy way. The digital quality is used to create masks out of shadow. There are a lot of closeups, but they aren’t used for emotional revelation. The faces are as unreadable as the characters are unpredictable. Everything and everyone has a feeling of latent shiftiness and hidden depths.
I don’t want to over-sell it. The Drop is a solid crime story with interesting characters and a nice look. The one possible false note for me was the coda, which I felt torn about. One of the things the film is doing is creating a sense of moral ambiguity or uncertainty. The coda felt like it was tipping the scales a bit on what had gradually been revealed to be an open question, but maybe I’m over-interpreting it. Maybe it’s not a happy ending so much as another indication that these characters have no good options. This is the world the live in, and it’s a criminal world.