Sunday 1 February 2015

The Drop by Lehane & Roskam

American crime novelist Dennis Lehane has had a considerable presence in films. Clint Eastwood and Brian Helgeland's adaptation of Mystic River was impressively bleak. Martin Scorsese and Laeta Kalogridis's Shutter Island began strongly then turned into a risible misfire. While Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard's Gone Baby Gone was simply terrific.

Now there is another excellent Dennis Lehane movie. It's called The Drop, directed by MichaĆ«l R. Roskam. 
And it's different in several ways from earlier Lehane vehicles. for a start, it's based on a  short story ('Animal Rescue') rather than a full length novel (although the author now seems to have expanded it into a full length novel to tie in with the film). Also, the movie shifts the scene of the action from Lehane's native Boston to Brooklyn. 

And the script is adapted by Lehane himself — he's done a sterling job, too. (It's his first feature film script, although he's written for the top TV dramas The Wire and Boardwalk Empire.)

The Drop combines the tale of a bar which is a mob dirty-money-drop (hence the title of the movie) with the story of Bob (played by the redoubtable Tom Hardy), a bartender there, who rescues an abandoned and abused puppy (hence the title of the original story).

In the process he meets and falls for a girl, Nadia (played by Noomi Rapace — the original Girl With a Dragon Tattoo) who own the dustbin where he finds the dog. This action puts him on a collision course with Eric Deeds (a terrific Matthias Schoenaerts), a dangerous nutcase who owned the dog — and thinks he also owns Nadia.

Lehane instantly wins our sympathy for his protagonists, and proceeds to expertly weave together the  strands of this suspenseful story.

As you can see, the film has a great cast, also including in his last role James Gandolfini as Cousin Marv, a bulky, embittered, failed mobster who can barely squeeze past the fridge in the tiny kitchen of his blue-collar dump of a house

Tom Hardy's Bob initially comes across as passive and none too bright. He appears to be permanently bullied and firmly under the thumb of Marv, his boss in the bar (which is called Cousin Marv's). But Bob shows an early flash of spirit that signals all is not what it seems. When Marv refers to the local Chechen mobsters (who've supplanted him) as Chechnyans, Bob corrects him "They're Chechens, not Chechnyans. You don't call people from Ireland 'Irelandians', do you?"

The film features authentic and intriguing glimpses of police life (like a regular spot where the cops park and drink while they watch the sunset). In this regard it's reminiscent of the work of another Boston writer — William Monahan's script for the US remake of Edge of Darkness.

Just as the flunky Bob is surprisingly spirited and assertive, this movie develops in a very unexpected and interesting fashion. In some ways it's a classic tale of the triumph of an underdog, no pun intended. It's a deeply satisfying, very enjoyable crime drama with strong characterisation. And very dark, when you think about it.

My only beef is a tense scene late in the film where Eric the bad guy starts talking about a character called "Didi", causing the viewer to think, "Who the f*ck is Didi?" and jolting us out of the story for a moment. It turns out that "Didi" is his pet name for "Nadia." How are we supposed to know this? Well, we can't. We have to puzzle it out. It's an annoying tyro error. Go back and study screenwriting 101, Dennis. But that's my only complaint about this exemplary script. 

The Drop didn't quite make it into my list of the top films of 2014. But it's a small gem of a movie. And I recommend it highly.

(Image credits: All from the reliable Ace Show Biz. I particularly like the blue and white one with the dog.)

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