This movie was previously called Animal Rescue, the title from Dennis Lehane’s short story from the Akashic collection Boston Noir, which he also edited. While the title makes complete sense once you’ve seen the film, it could be a bit misleading in advance, because the subject matter is more centrally bad and not-so-bad people. Apparently 3 different puppies played Rocco, named after the Italian saint and patron of dogs, and they are deadly cute. If you’re sensitive to animals in peril, though the pooch starts in a tough place, I think you’ll feel okay with how this plays out. I’m glad they changed the title to The Drop, and since then, Lehane’s expanded the story into an entire novel to go with it and also got to make his debut outing as a screenwriter for the film.
Three days after Christmas, a lonely bartender looking for a reason to live rescues an abused puppy from a trash can and meets a damaged woman looking for something to believe in. As their relationship grows, they cross paths with the Chechen mafia; a man grown dangerous with age and thwarted hopes; two hapless stick-up artists; a very curious cop; and the original owner of the puppy, who wants his dog back. . . .
I fear the movie’s release was a bit chilled by having the unfortunate distinction of being James Gandolfini’s last film appearance. (Maybe I’m wrong about that, and people flock for such reasons.) Gandolfini, as Cousin Marv, is very good, as are Englishman Tom Hardy as bartender Bob Saginowski (with a funny-pitched voice I liked) and Sweden’s Noomi Rapace as Nadia from the neighborhood (allowed to keep hints of her accent). Turns out another important character, Eric Deeds, was played by Matthias Schoenaerts, who is a Belgian, as is the director, Michaël R. Roskam, making his U.S. directorial debut. Unlike Lehane’s story, which was originally set in Boston (duh), the movie’s location moved to Brooklyn, which I think worked just fine. Hardcore, long-time Brooklynites might have quibbles, but having recently coped with seeing Coors on a “Boston” bar’s sign in Black Mass (also a recommended watch, but, um, NO), I’m feeling forgiving.
Lehane didn’t write the screenplay after his novel Mystic River, but director Clint Eastwood stayed very close to his source material. That meant lots of times when what was said wasn’t what was meant, where the simplicity of a statement was like the tippy-top of an unfathomably huge iceberg. The Drop is paced and told like that, too, a style which I really enjoy, because that’s what happens when people have painful enough history to speak in evasive shorthand about it. No one needs to say “As you know, when we did this thing at that place on such a date….” I always prefer mystery to be left in that kind of shared background, because it adds to the perceived import of whatever it was. Funnily enough, I think about what it meant that people at Hogwarts were so traumatized by the past they were afraid to speak Voldemort’s name. Bad times and bad people are like boogie men, and we can be afraid their names work like evocations. A life-changing moment or relationship may be reduced to “She left me.” or “He died by himself,” but that’s because we know words are insufficient. We barely sketch the outline for each other and require our shared humanity to fill in the rest of the significance.
This movie is like that, told in hints and the looks crossing faces. The people in it are worth watching as they try to figure out who to believe, caught in situations where trust is in short supply. There are some darkly funny moments, too, and plot-wise, a couple of big surprises I really enjoyed. It was also nice to look at, because it was so regular. If they spent a lot of time masterminding a just-so production design, rather than just dropping into what is true-life for a lot of people, it didn’t look orchestrated. Having served my time behind the stick, Cousin Marv’s feels like a million local bars you could find anywhere across the country, and the streets and other interiors seemed that way, too. Even with genuine movie stars in it, the small, local ordinariness of it was very appealing. Experiencing a film less as cutesy, manipulative calculation and more just as being witness to a story can be a relief.
So, I’m recommending The Drop if you like such street-level crime dramas. The trailer gives a decent idea of the tensions at play, except the movie has much more quiet in it. It’s not relentlessly-paced, which makes the shocking scenes more dramatic and lets you know the characters and their lives better. So, add it to your queue, or tell me what you thought if you’ve seen it, too!