Dennis Lehane holds a rather odd place in the publishing world. His novels about crime in blue collar neighborhoods certainly land him in higher regard than the James Pattersons and Stephenie Meyers of the world, but his books aren’t really viewed as literary masterpieces either. He also holds a sort of middle ground in the world of sales too. I don’t know for sure because there isn’t really a boxofficemojo.com for books, but my impression is that his books sell moderately well but certainly don’t come close to Dan Brown numbers. However, there is one thing that Lehane seems to excel at: getting Hollywood to adapt his books into movies. This trend started in 2003 when Clint Eastwood directed an excellent adaptation of Lehane’s Mystic River, continued when Ben Affleck made his directorial debut by adapting Gone Baby Gone, and was furthered when Martin Scorsese adapted Shutter Island. The latest film to be based on one of his works is the new film The Drop, which differs from previous Lehane adaptations firstly because it’s based on a short story called “Animal Rescue” rather than a novel, and secondly because Lehane himself wrote the screenplay this time.
The title “The Drop” refers to a practice of “dropping” dirty money at a different bar each night for laundering. The film tells the story of one bar that’s in this rotation called “Cousin Marv’s,” which is, in fact, run by a cousin named Marv (James Gandolfini) who used to be a fairly successful gangster. However, the story is actually told from the perspective of Marv’s bartender and right-hand-man Bob (Tom Hardy), a meek man with a cloudy past who seems to just be trying to live quietly and tend bar. Things are set into motion when a pair of masked men burst into the bar at closing, guns drawn, and demand all the money in the cash register. The robbers get away with five thousand dollars, money that belongs to the Chechen mob. Marv and Bob are warned that the Chechens want their money found and they had better find it.
This Lehane adaptation is set in Brooklyn rather than Lehane’s usual Boston, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, this is still a story about a blue-collar white East Coast neighborhood with a clear criminal element. These neighborhoods seem almost anachronistic in 2014, especially given that Brooklyn is more commonly associated with hipsters than teamsters these days. Still, there’s a certain allure to the idea of a bar that feels like the Mos Eisley cantina brought to Earth. Our protagonist, Bob Saginowski, is not necessarily the person you’d most expect to see in the middle of a gangster movie… or maybe he is. The guy is sort of a cross between Niko Bellic and the Ryan Gostling character from the movie Drive. He seems like a modest and not overly bright fellow who only wants to tend bar, but you’re never exactly sure what he’s capable of beneath his meek exterior. James Gandolfini’s Marv on the other hand seems like you’re prototypical cynical old man who hasn’t survived this long by being a fool and knows the stakes involved in his shady business practices.
After the robbery that incites the films plot, a sort of twisty crime scheme kicks in and things get a little confusing. There’s a sub-plot in which Bob finds a dog in a trash can and adopts it along with a woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace) which is presumably supposed to represent Bob’s softer side and his quest for redemption, and this begins to tie into the main plot in somewhat implausible ways. The usual trappings of these sorts of movies are all here: Catholic guilt, betrayals, ethnic tensions, cops who could easily have been criminals in another life… it’s all here. The crime genre has just become a super crowded field with almost impossibly high standards that relatively modest projects like The Drop are going to have a very hard time living up to. Outside of its somewhat messy plot with a couple strange coincidences, there’s not really a whole lot that can be said is glaringly wrong with the film. It’s mostly quite well acted, has decent enough dialogue, and its shot and directed with skill. However, the film really doesn’t have much of anything to set it apart from its peers; in many ways it just feels like a paint by numbers crime film that doesn’t have many original ideas that make it a particularly memorable experience.
*** our of Four