The thing about liquid is that it always takes the form of its container. Thin, round, tall, squat – it doesn’t matter. The same could be said of Hardy. In Locke, he affects a peculiar, nasally UK accent and gruff persona. As a spy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he is a sharp, twitchy stud whose emotions rule his behavior. For Inception, he becomes the über suave Eames and is a heady match for the imposing icons of “cool,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Nothing changes in Hardy’s appearance between these roles; he doesn’t lose or gain weight as a form of method acting, and his distinctive face remains constant. And yet, I never feel I’m watching “Tom Hardy” when he’s onscreen. No matter the character, he always melts into the role and wears it like a second skin.
In The Drop, he does this again, and picks up a wholly believable New York accent along the way. Hardy’s performance is marvelous. His new character, Bob, is riddled with dualistic complexity. He works at a “drop bar” where criminal organizations leave large sums of money for one another. Bob tends to turn the other eye while the drops go on, at least as far as he is able. Hardy walks this line between simple innocence and pragmatic illegality with grace.
“I just tend the bar.” This is Bob’s mantra. He repeats it again and again, trying to convince the people around him and the audience that he’s a normal, hardworking guy. But Hardy’s peculiar and often hilarious mannerisms instantly betray his more intimate secrets. Through his pouty face and delayed line delivery, Hardy demands that we accept his innocence. In so doing, he makes Bob all the more suspicious.
Noomi Rapace is a capable match for Hardy. Although her character is less subtle, Rapace’s turn as Nadia is nevertheless sympathetic. She bolsters the human aspect of the narrative as an earnest but untrusting new friend for Bob. As their relationship unfolds, it adds real dramatic tension as we worry for both her and Bob’s safety and happiness.
The Drop is more compelling as a character study than it is as a crime drama. Early on, Bob finds a pit bull puppy in a trash can. The little dog has been beaten and abandoned, but Bob and Nadia decide to look after him. The two characters bond through this event and, as cute animals are wont to do, it lends an emotional anchor for the rest of the story to build from.
Bob’s deep affection for the dog is emphasized to great effect. He doesn’t have a strong grasp on how to take care of a pet (this is where Nadia’s guidance comes in handy), but this only makes him more endearing as a protagonist. And of course, it never gets old watching montage sequences where Hardy walks his tiny dog around the park, tangling himself up in the leash as the dog runs around him.
Like his lead character, director Michaël R. Roskam plays his cards close to his chest. The Drop is an engaging, winding tale. It might have benefited from a greater focus on Bob, perhaps scrapping most of the overarching gang-related story altogether. The idea of the “drop bar” isn’t even ultimately integral to the plot. The nail biting final minutes of the movie are about theft and armed robbery; what is being stolen is inconsequential. And, unfortunately, so is the character tied to this subplot.
The thankless job of playing the third wheel falls on the formidable shoulders of the late James Gandolfini. The Drop has been referred to this film as Gandolfini’s final star performance, but I believe his deeper and more substantial role in Enough Said takes that honor. Here he’s reduced to the shallow role of Cousin Marv, a bitter ex-mob boss whose glory days ended when a bigger, badder gang put him out of commission. In an effort to regain his past success, he makes several desperate power plays that only get him into more trouble.
Writer Dennis Lehane offers some lame exposition on Marv and his sister Dottie (Ann Dowd) to explain his erratic behavior. The siblings discuss their ailing father whose rising life support costs are too much to manage. In this backstory we can see a mirror for Marv: a former patriarch put on “life support,” impotent and helpless. However, we never get any more information about their father or their internal familial struggles beyond this short scene, effectively killing any chance for resonant thematic parallelism.
An overly complicated narrative aside, The Drop is an effective thriller. Hardy’s performance elevates Lehane’s functional script, and is supported by an excellent turn from Noomi Rapace. I just wish James Gandolfini, a phenomenal actor in his own right, had more to do. As it stands, his participation in Roskam’s film probably should have been dropped altogether.
Movie Verdict: Win