The Drop review

For his English language debut, Bullhead director Michaël R. Roskam chose a screenplay by Dennis Lehane, based on Lehane’s own short story Animal Rescue.

The Drop explores four central characters, all of whom are a wounded animal in one respect or another – and there’s an additional, literal wounded animal in the form of an abandoned puppy. This recalls Roskam’s Bullhead and its fascinating central character, played by Matthias Schoenaerts.

We are introduced to the mild mannered but clearly troubled Bob (Tom Hardy), the world-weary Marv (James Gandolfini), the distrustful Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and the unstable and threatening Eric (Schoenaerts). All four are hiding their own secrets and fighting their own struggle, as revealed deliberately and slowly by Lehane and Roskam as the film unspools. Not only do we learn more about what has hurt the cast of leading characters, we find out how far they will be prepared to go with their – sometimes desperate – attempts to move forward.

While The Drop centres on its multi-stranded weave of character studies, it’s also a crime film. This is a brooding thriller that centres around a bar in Brooklyn, run by Marv and bartended by Bob, and the shady transactions that go on behind the scenes. It does become clear, however, that this setting and the more noirish genre elements are mostly set dressing, or means to an end, and that the filmmakers are much more interested in character development than action or cheap thrills.

The film’s slow-burn tension comes from the audience’s focus on the characters. As we lean in, looking for clues to the characters and straining to understand them, there are often some unexpected turns. At times, I wondered if Roskam and Lehane had struggled with how to best make their structure compelling.

As a result, and despite some high-class performances from well-cast actors, there are times when The Drop is nowhere nearly as gripping as it needs to be to continually sustain its atmosphere.

Roskam does a fine job with the most technical aspects of filmmaking, and it is rather pleasing to watch such a competently realised film play out, even if the plotting may not always come up to the same standard.

Working again with his Bullhead cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, Roskam has managed to keep the film very aesthetically consistent, too, and every scene feels very much part of the same whole. A whole that may not be quite as deeply compelling as it could, or maybe should, have been, but this is still an engaging enough, low-key thriller, with well drawn and interesting characters.

The Drop is playing in UK cinemas from today, November 14th, 2014. It’s been out in the US since September 12th but will still be playing in some cinemas.