The Drop (2014)
And a puppy shall lead them.
In The Drop, Rocco - a pit bull pup named after Saint Rocco the patron saint of dogs - runs away with the movie from his fellow actors. His sniffing and splay-footed performance steals it.
Beloved actor James Gandolfini frowns and scowls as Cousin Marv, brilliant Tom Hardy gently broods, and Noomi Rapace - who was so memorable in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) - shrinks with vulnerability. Even Matthias Schoenaerts, who gives evil more vowels than it ever had before, smoulders.
But Rocco runs rings around them all. W.C. Fields would really hate the lovable scene stealer.
Rocco is the key to the humanity in The Drop.
When Bob (Hardy) finds the abused pup in a trash can one night, it opens a new world to him. Bob is a bartender in Brooklyn at a bar run by his cousin Marv (Gandolfini), who has lost control of his bar to Chechen mobsters, who use the establishment as a money drop for ill-gotten gains. Marv is bitter, lives with his sister (Ann Dowd), and has little if any future.
Nadia (Rapace) sees Bob by her trash can and warily confronts him. Bob wants to take care of the puppy but doesn't know how. At first he thinks it's a boxer. "It's a big responsibility," he says. He gets Nadia to help him.
The bar is robbed, and that sets intrigue and confusion in motion. But all the while Bob is protective of his new responsibility, even when the dog becomes a pawn in the lethal game. Nadia too becomes a target. Bob is faced with dangerous and threatening forces. How can he act?
Dennis Lehane wrote the screenplay, from his story "Animal Rescue." That title was too symbolic and might mislead the audience, so the title was changed to the more negligible The Drop. Can you imagine the studio discussing the title change? Maybe they should have changed it to Drop the Chew Toy.
Somehow writer Lehane and director director Michael R. Roskam have eluded studio interference enough to make a stylish, atmospherically dark fable about image and reality. Roskam creates a feeling of violence lurking just out of sight.
Roskam stumbles a bit when he uses upside down images, but in general he creates a palpable vision. Lehane's dialogue has some gnawing bite.
The Drop has layers of characterization. Bob often seems slow on the uptake, but he knows his whiskey and the correct pronunciation of a foreign name. He is a daily worshipper at a church which is to be shut down. He is an enigma.
Tom Hardy, with sad eyes, sometimes furtive, effectively portrays a character of both simplicity and depth. Hardy and Rapace have a believable chemistry that is both fragile and grounded.
This is one of two films with James Gandolfini that were released posthumously. He's solid in this, but Enough Said (2013) still is his most human and memorable film portrayal.
All of the performances in The Drop seem gifted.
But the command performance is by Rocco.