It all starts with a dog.
An impossibly beautiful pit bull that bartender (and maybe more) Bob Saginowski finds wounded and dropped in a trash can on a cold New York City night. The Drop, based on Dennis Lehane’s short story “Animal Rescue” presents itself as a film noir about mob money and low-rent gangsters. But more than anything, The Drop is about a boy and his dog.
Despite being James Gandolfini’s last film, The Drop came and left theaters quickly in September of 2014. Since then, its reputation has quietly grown. It’s not hard to see why. Lean and humane with a literally killer twist in the final act, The Drop is one of the finest NYC crime thrillers since Sidney Lumet shuffled off this mortal coil in 2011 after his grand exodus: Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead.
Tom Hardy’s Bob Saginowski tends bar for his cousin Marv (Gandolfini), a man living in his sister’s basement, a shell of his former self. Marv was once a boss, but as Bob points out later, when faced with a threat, Marv “blinked.” He owns the bar in name only now, fronting for Chechen gangsters so they can make drops of dirty money.
Much of The Drop is about a man working his way through a pair of life and death issues; the first involves a plot to double-cross the Russian mob, thought out (not all that well) by Marv; the second, and the one at the true heart of the movie, is Bob trying to figure out how to keep a beat-up pit bull puppy away from its former owner.
Walking home from the bar one night, Bob hears whimpering coming from a trash can at the end of a driveway. He takes the bloody dog from the canister almost as one would pull an alien creature from its pod; Bob knows nothing about dogs. Hearing the bang and clatter coming from her driveway, Nadia (a beyond perfect Noomi Rapace) shouts after Bob. After all, it is her trash. In just two shakes of a wounded puppy’s tail, Bob is inside Nadia’s house cleaning up the poor beast and getting a crash course on the misconceptions people have about pit bulls.
Nadia agrees to keep the dog for a couple days as long as Bob promises to come back for the pooch. In another movie, Bob and Nadia would have hooked up with some soft lighting in the background, some lush strings playing over their canoodling, and maybe a cute shot of the dog scratching at the bedroom door.
The Drop is not that movie.
This is a story of two wounded birds who come together to fix a creature in worse shape than they are. They do so because despite their numerous flaws, they both have an inherent decency, and a hatred of bullying and abuse.
We later discover that there’s a reason the dog was placed in Nadia’s trash can: a message, sent from a man Nadia wishes she had never met. The two stories go on to converge on the night Marv’s ill-fated heist is to go down.
For much of the movie you’d be forgiven if you thought Bob to be a bit “slow.” Tom Hardy plays a man purposefully looking to be underestimated. He’s watching what goes on around him as he disappears into the background. He seldom speaks. And when he does, he keeps it simple. In a performance that proves Hardy to be one of the great actors of his generation, he doesn’t so much perform Bob as he unveils him, slowly, as if unwinding a very long sheet.
I don’t mean to say that Bob is a criminal mastermind. He’s not. But he’s not just a survivor either. His seeming passivity is a ruse. Bob wants to avoid trouble. But when trouble comes, he knows what to do.
On the night of the intended heist, things go bad for Marv. Very bad. They go just as poorly for the man who Nadia longs to escape a second time: the same man who has threatened a very sweet puppy.
Bob gives this man a number of chances to walk away. He tries reason. When reason doesn’t work, he offers cash. And when that fails, Bob offers him two bullets from the gun he keeps below the bar. It’s a sudden and shocking scene of violence which leads to the best line of the movie:
When Nadia says, “Hey… I mean, you… you just fucking shot him.”
Bob replies, “Yes I did. Absolutely. He was going to hurt our dog.”
Bob offers no other explanation for what he’s done. None is needed. Like I said, The Drop is about a boy and his dog. And a boy will do anything for his dog.
The Drop’s next to last scene is perfectly composed. A detective played by the wonderful John Ortiz sees past Bob’s unassuming demeanor. He takes the time to notice what others don’t give a second glance. The scene ends when Ortiz says, “No one ever sees you coming… do they, Bob?”
No one does. They just die wishing they had never threatened his dog.