Built on a spare cast, low stakes, and stunning performances, The Drop manages what thrillers so seldom accomplish, sustained poise. To say the stakes are low isn't to imply the story lacks gravity. The writing and narrative structure are taut to the point of waterproof. Instead, the stakes are low in the Marge Gunderson, “And for what? For a little bit of money,” sort of way.
There will be plenty of readings reducing this picture to rising action, ‘twist,’ and denouement. Sure, there are some wrinkles on the back end, but to cite them as the film's locus undermines The Drop’s sophisticated slow burn. Meted out in a long, slow sizzle, when the big reveal arrives, I think most will have some sense it was coming. The sickly sweet effectiveness of the big moment isn’t the ‘surprise’ itself, but that it’s thematically proportional to the grinding path down which the film has led us.
The Drop is an uncomplicated, gritty story, and the film’s crowning achievement is a foundational simplicity. An elementary principle so elusive it has broken the back of countless thrillers: nothing is left to coincidence. I can’t begin to expand on how admirable this truly is, and how seemingly difficult it is to pull off. There are no overheard conversations, no stumbled upon evidence, no wrong/right place at the wrong/right time moments, and it’s glorious.
It may seem ridiculous to dole out such heavy praise for what should be a modest feat, but coincidence is a curse on the genre. It’s difficult to stack such sprawling storylines together without requiring some coincidence as connective tissue, but Lehane doesn't settle. Instead, he takes his stable of sociopaths, winds them up, and lets them play off each other on a tragic march to oblivion. All the parts make sense, no one is allowed to be too cool or sexy, and everything—for once—happens for a reason.
At the center of all of this is Bob Saginowski as played by Tom Hardy in a powerful, absorbing turn. Bob’s most impressive aspect? He kind of sucks. For sure at first. It would be great if Bob was bad or unlikable, but he’s just a bumbler and naïve to the point of contempt. In fact, the film as a whole gets off to a shaky start. But as with everything The Drop, nothing is left to coincidence.
James Gandolfini in his final film as Cousin Marv, the never-quite-made made man. Noomi Rapace as the waitress with scars and scar tissue. Matthias Schoenarts as the distant, chilling neighborhood reprobate Eric Deeds. Chechen mobsters. It takes several disparate threads to make a loose end, but none serve the film quite as well as Bob and his newly adopted dog Rocco. Roskam examines their budding relationship with an astute tenderness. As a result of his delicate touch, Rocco emerges as an important emotional backdrop while working his way into the center of the maelstrom.
The Drop certainly employs its fair share of crime thriller familiarities. The grab bag of voice over narration, struggles with faith, petty criminals, and explosive violence are all present in various capacities. But the strength of the picture lies in Roskam and Lehane’s unflinching plainness. Our denizens are unglamorous, their world is brutish. We’re never asked to make a leap into improbability, and the smallness of ends to serve, the savagery of violence, these things are never more potent than when planted in reality.
An overall superb effort, my only quibble is the afterthought of an ending. The final scene pretty roundly betrays the ingrained tone, but it's not enough of an offense to upend otherwise excellent work. Not quite a prestige picture, but far too good for an end-of-summer throw away, The Drop very well might be one of the better efforts of 2014. A tight film with ragged people—who in fact are people--The Drop knows what ultimately Bob knows: our lot is little more than a series of loose ends, and they’re tied off in one way, and one way only.