Adapted for the screen by novelist Dennis Lehane from his 2009 short story Animal Rescue, The Drop is a solid, dependable crime thriller set predominantly in a Brooklyn bar, which the Chechen mob uses as a collection point for laundered money.
In these boozy and convivial surroundings, romance is kindled, personal ties are frayed and one hard-working member of bar staff contemplates breaking the law for a noble cause: love.
Belgian director Michael R Roskam’s second feature, his follow-up to the Oscar nominated Bullhead, gradually turns the screws, exerting pressure on the characters as they wrestle with their consciences.
Some capitulate while others demonstrate hidden reserves of strength, resourcefulness and aggression that prove you should never judge a book by its well-worn cover.
The Drop is blessed with James Gandolfini’s final screen performance and he is a slippery, brooding presence amid occasional twists of a serpentine plot.
However, it’s chameleonic London-born star Tom Hardy, who wrought havoc on Christian Bale and Gotham as masked madman Bane, who shines brightest, juxtaposing his imposing physicality and vulnerability.
Bob Saginowski (Hardy) is a softly spoken soul, who tends the neighbourhood bar owned and run by Cousin Marv (Gandolfini).
Walking home after a shift, Bob hears whimpering and discovers a badly beaten pitbull in a dustbin.
The homeowner, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), claims to know nothing about the distressed animal and she helps to patch up the dog’s wounds.
Bob subsequently adopts the pitbull, christening his four-legged friend Rocco.
Soon after, two gun men hold up Marv’s bar and steal “five large... and change”.
Detectives Torres (John Ortiz) and Romsey (Elizabeth Rodriguez) investigate and when the police are gone, Chechen thug Chovka (Michael Aronov) arrives with goons in tow, impressing on Marv and Bob the importance of replacing the stolen cash as soon as possible.
As the dust settles, a criminal low life called Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) visits Bob and claims to be Rocco’s owner.
He threatens to tell the police that Bob mistreated the pitbull unless the bartender pays him 10,000 dollars.
Faced with the prospect of losing Rocco, Bob contemplates stealing dirty money from the Chechens on one of the busiest drinking days of the year: Superbowl Sunday.
The Drop is predictable but this portrait of greed and ambition on the mean streets of New York hits most of the right menacing notes.
Lehane’s lean script is peppered with colourful dialogue and sustains dramatic tension.
Director Roskam gently waters the seeds of romance between Bob and Nadia, catalysed by simmering screen chemistry between Hardy and a poorly served and underused Rapace.
Performances from the two male leads anchor the picture, staring into the blackened hearts of men who surrendered their souls to the Devil many years ago.