Monday, September 29, 2014

The Drop

THE DROP          B+         
USA  (106 mi)  2014  ‘Scope  d:  Michaël R. Roskam       Official site

Everybody has a past…There are some sins that you commit, that you can’t come back from, no matter how hard you try. 
—Bob Saginowski

Listen, listen, just take it easy.  Listen to me.  That is life.  That’s what it is.  People like me, coming along when you’re not looking. 
—Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts)

Only Roskam’s second film, following the international acclaim received with the bleak but riveting Belgian film 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: #6 Bullhead (Rundskop) , which immediately caught the attention of Hollywood executives who invited him to make his second film in America, offering him the script of well-known screenwriter, Dennis Lehane, who penned Clint Eastwood’s MYSTIC RIVER (2003), Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007), and Martin Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND (2010), not to mention several episodes of the popular television show The Wire (2004 – 08), so he is a proven commodity.  Working with Lehane’s short story Animal Rescue set in Boston, the filmmaker has assembled an extraordinary international cast and makes the most of it, transporting the film to a non-descript Brooklyn neighborhood where dirty money changes hands on a nightly basis.  The story centers around a neighborhood dive bar known as Cousin Marv’s, the name of the former owner, the late James Gandolfini in his final role, wearing a New York Jets hoodie, hanging Yankees and Giants posters on the walls, who lost his bar nearly a decade ago to Chechen gangsters, but continues to run the place, making regular payments to the mob, who make deals, investments, collect on bets won or lost, and at the end of the night the money has to end up somewhere, where the last stop along the way is a money drop funneling cash to organized crime in an underworld network of Brooklyn bars, where the location changes from day to day to keep the heat off of any one specific bar.  The noirish inner narration is provided by Marv’s street savvy bartender, Bob Saginowski, Tom Hardy from Locke (2013) channeling Brando’s Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan’s ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), where he’s a local kid from the neighborhood seemingly without much education, who doesn’t talk much but is a straight up guy, honest, hard working, and dependable, where Marv is his actual cousin, and the two have a familiar way of talking to one another as if they’ve known each other for years, which of course they have.  Nothing phases these two guys, as they’ve been through it all, but they’re a bit taken aback when a couple of punks wearing masks rob the place one night, taking $5000 of mob money out of the register.  A visit from Chovka (Michael Aronov) and his heavies wanting their money back doesn’t make them rest any easier, where they’re on the hook for the missing money.    

When an overly curious cop (John Ortiz) shows up sniffing around for clues, he recognizes Bob from seeing him at mass, but also that he hasn’t taken communion in over twenty years, suggesting his watchful eyes and ears are everywhere.  At about the same time, Bob discovers a wounded pit bull puppy abandoned in a trash can, where the home owner, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), invites him in and helps clean up the dog, where they become friends, of a sort, where both seem to be harboring a world of secrets, scarred and wounded souls themselves that are otherwise nearly completely disconnected from the rest of the world with no friends, no social life, no real prospects for the future, but go about their daily business in the light of day seemingly invisible to others.  These are the kinds of characters that inhabit Lehane stories, thieves, thugs, and hard guys, as he specializes in establishing authenticity in working class neighborhoods, where cinematically retaining his attention to detail is essential, filled with characters who are dark and moody, usually still haunted by disturbing incidents or horrible choices from their past, living lives of sin and redemption, where it’s not at all surprising to find some that are nearly doomed, as tragedy awaits their every step.  After Bob takes the dog home and tries to provide a normal and stable environment, he’s visited by an ominously dangerous figure, Eric Deeds, Matthias Schoenaerts from Bullhead (Rundskop) (2011) and Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os) (2011), who likely inflicted the damage to both the dog and Nadia, whose brooding presence, and the knowledge that he likely killed one of Marv’s old customers, is a continuous threat.  Both men are lonesome characters defined by keeping things to themselves, hiding some sort of shady past, but have now apparently gone straight.  Bob’s connection to Nadia has been transforming, both for the dog and himself, but Eric wants them both back, threatening to inflict more damage on the dog if there is any trouble.  While Bob is busy dealing with the insane presence of Eric, reminiscent of the demented criminality of Peter Stormare in Fargo (1996), Marv has the mob to answer to, where this mysterious interplay in and out of a shadowy world provides tense and creepy atmosphere throughout.  The film is a pensive, darkly troubling slow burn of unfolding events, where the somber music by Marco Beltrami and Raf Keunen never interferes, remaining quietly atmospheric in the background, where the film accentuates the performances of the characters, trusting the depth and complexity they bring to the screen. 

While the short story was written ten years ago, Lehane expanded the screenplay for the making of the movie, and only afterwards wrote a short novel to support the film.  Opening with a group of men toasting a friend who died (or was murdered) ten years ago, a kid named Richie Whalen, aka Glory Days, where Marv offers free shots on the house, while muttering to Bob that these men “need to move on.”  Marv is a kind of gloomy character who will never be satisfied because life didn’t turn out the way he wanted, so he nitpicks and harps on every last little detail, believing life doesn’t offer anybody a chance.  When the mob money mysteriously arrives all covered in blood in a plastic sack, after a long pause awaiting the verdict, Chovka is satisfied with the results, announcing the biggest drop of the year will take place in the bar on Super Bowl Sunday.  Drenched in brooding atmosphere, the film is a parade of compelling characters that are continually underplayed throughout, where in the criminal world emotions are viewed as a weakness, so instead this is a minimalist film noir that continually explores the dark side of human nature.  Violence in this film is continually alluded to, but comes infrequently, yet the effect can be startling, where lives are spinning in the balance, as Roskam does an excellent job drawing the audience into this bleak yet lurid world, inhabited by such world-weary figures.  As Eric, who is little more than a thug, puts pressure on Bob to return his dog, he decides to take ten grand for the dog as his final offer, due by the next day.  When Bob protests that some stranger can’t just walk into somebody’s life and expect ten grand, Eric has the perfect answer that may as well be the theme of the film, “Listen, listen, just take it easy.  Listen to me.  That is life.  That’s what it is.  People like me, coming along when you’re not looking.”  True enough, this is a film that plays with the audience’s expectations, that dangles possibilities out there like a carrot on a stick and then goes in another direction, as the real beauty of the film is figuring out what lays underneath the surface, where people dwell on the past, but not always on what you think, as often it’s different than what they tell you, offering a smokescreen to hide the real truth.  Roskam has the audience guessing as to the true nature of each of these characters, where the grizzled performances are among the year’s best, especially Tom Hardy, who literally transforms himself into the role, the kind of part Harvey Keitel would play in the Scorsese movies, as despite the seedy world that surrounds him, he never wants to move far from the moral center, even as he deals with such brutally dark extremes, where mob guys are capable of anything.  The story has a savage center, where the beast is in man, yet so is the possibility of redemption. 

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