Clicking and Streaming: Tough guys and puppies in the gruff, sweet, 'The Drop'

City Paper

Directed by a Belgian best known for "Bullhead," a bumpy noir about the beef trade, and written by Dennis Lehane (and based on his short story "Animal Rescue"), "The Drop" is a quirky, staid romantic dramedy dressed up to look like a gritty crime flick. Introverted bartender Bob (Tom Hardy) finds a pit bull puppy in a garbage can on his way home and decides he’s going to raise the little guy with the help of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a diffident young woman with a troubled ex-boyfriend from around the way who stuffed the pup in her trash can. And then there are all the townies and stupid fucking traditions and crooks that any community has, which make it hard for semi-decent people in transition like Bob and Nadia. Think of it as a subtler, sadder, and sweeter variation on "John Wick," 2014’s other movie one might categorize under the quasi-burgeoning "tough guy/cute dog" subgenre.

Meanwhile, the menacing criminals here aren’t admirable or even particularly badass: Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final performance) is a former big fish in a small pond sporting white sneakers and a New York Jets track jacket with a dad on life support who runs the bar where Bob works; Nadia’s ex, Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), is a tough-talking shitty little criminal plagued by bipolar disorder. He’s the movie’s chaos element—the Liberty Valance of the neighborhood really.

These are not transgressive thugs, but clueless losers both with a chip on their shoulder, set up in contrast to Bob, a supposed simpleton (who the movie heavily implies has undiagnosed autism) who’s maddening in his sincerity. Hardy’s a shticky character-actor type in all the right ways and here he tilts all of that ham and cheese into a series of devastating actorly tics—namely, a Ryan Gosling mumble and a Jerry Lewis stammer that make him incredibly alluring and endearing. And then there’s Noomi Rapace, showing all of the same stiff-upper-lip intensity she did in "Prometheus," when she ripped an alien baby out of her stomach in under a minute without any painkillers, here as a woman who can’t escape her past because she can’t escape her neighborhood. It’s like that for young, whip-smart working-class women.

"The Drop" is part of the long tradition of non-Americans coming to America and doing small post-noir crime with stellar acting ("Straight Time," "Cutter’s Way," "Brother," "Killing Them Softly"), which means it’s kind of like misremembered Scorsese, which makes it better than anything the real Scorsese’s done since "Taxi Driver." Crime isn’t a dramatic crutch here, but a way to raise the emotional stakes. So, people get shot, fingers are cut off, and there’s plenty of "fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck"-type dialogue, but it also feels like a last overcompensating hypermasculine gasp, ready to be replaced by a gruff sweetheart, his adorable dog, and a woman who gives a shit even if the world has given her every reason to stop. 

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