Cousin Marv’s is a forgettable little bar tucked away in Brooklyn. It’s a hidden sanctuary where the locals seek refuge, where Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) tends bar, doling out the occasional free drink to someone who needs it, to someone lost and alone in this inescapably expansive city. Bob’s cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini), manages the bar, his eyes carefully surveying the bottom line. Marv used to own this place back in the day. He used to be a well-respected king – a god, even. Then life intervened, and Marv sold the bar adorning his name to Chechen criminals. These new owners kept the name, but they gutted Cousin Marv’s soul.
It’s a front now – one piece in a vast network of money-laundering businesses that serve as “drop” points for black market currency to traffic through. Cash filters in from the streets, and illegal tender lurks beneath the bar top in a safe, awaiting pick-up from the boss. All it takes is one miserable evening, one perfectly timed robbery, for that big pot of trouble to boil over. Until now, Bob was just the bartender and Cousin Marv just the manager, but someone’s got to answer to the Chechens.
Before the audience can blink, bad luck and danger dangle above our heroes in classic film noir fashion. In many ways The Drop is a throwback to the moody, atmospheric crime dramas of the 40’s and 50’s. It’s dark. It’s alluring and beautiful – almost picturesque in some of its scenic urban decay. The streetlights cast soft glows and long shadows – enchanting and yet deadly. Motivations are questionable, and there are two sides to every story and every face.
Our heroes, Bob and Nadia (Noomi Rapace), are ordinary protagonists trapped in this city too large to flee from. They’ve already been wounded when the audience meets them, marked and beaten down by this world too powerful to challenge. Bob is soft spoken, and Nadia bears visible scars.
The streets around them carry on forever, and often times the director, Michaël R. Roskam, never shows us how high the buildings loom. In this vision of Brooklyn, there are no sweeping landscape shots. There are no pans across the wide berth of the city’s reach. There’s nothing to let us know that this city ends. No boundaries. No borders. Like Nadia and Bob, we feel trapped, lost, and unable to flee this labyrinthine metropolis. Roskam’s technique sets up The Drop perfectly, and the cast knocks it out of the park.
Tom Hardy has given many amazing performances in his career, but this may be one of his finest. Hardy reinvents the way he carries himself as Bob and at times seems to channel Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle a la Taxi Driver fame. His speech is slowed, meek and cautious. His eyes look at the world the way an abused animal would. When he moves onscreen, there’s thoughtfulness to his movements, an intended purpose that lets us in on what’s going on inside Bob’s mind. Each flinch is calculated. Each furrowed brow planned. Despite Hardy’s past memorable roles, we don’t recognize the actor. Bob is all-new – someone we’ve never met before.
Noomi Rapace delivers an equally excellent performance. Her Nadia comes across as a kindred spirit to Bob. She’s been hurt, but she’s a fighter. In some ways, Nadia seems stronger than Bob at first, and Rapace is able to pull off a balancing act between helpless and capable of defending herself, oscillating between the two as the tension swells around her.
The Drop also marks the bittersweet end of a career to beloved actor James Gandolfini. He completed filming of this role before passing away in June of 2013. As with all of his other cinematic and TV credits, Gandolfini commands attention. In the role of Marv, he plays a character more vulnerable than some of his career highlights. Cousin Marv is old and tired, his mind battered with stress and defeatism. Unlike his younger screen cohorts, this dark Brooklyn has had more time to slither underneath Marv’s skin and settle in his bones, and it’s in this role Gandolfini convinces us that this might have been Tony Soprano in another ten years, the weight of the world mercilessly pounding him deeper into the concrete.
At the end of the day, The Drop is a magical film. Its allure is in the way Roskam captures all these expertly acted broken characters. They’re so sympathetic, fallible, and real, but as the camera and the lights cast enchanting glows around them, viewers can’t help but feel like they’ve been swept off to Oz to watch some road to destruction in a place that isn’t Kansas anymore. Sure, it’s Brooklyn, but it’s not the real Brooklyn. It’s the movie Brooklyn, and in the movie Brooklyn, cities carry on without end, bars prove soulful and corruptible, and long shadows bear the sickle of death on tragic heroes.
Writer, Social Miscreant, Gamer, Beer lover, Author, Deputy Director/Managing Editor at Literary Orphans and occasionally Mr. Comedian to all the wrong people. Scott Waldyn leads a quiet existence until his brain flares up and paints colors over a black and white reality.