Italian filmmakers created the genre of the Spaghetti Western. That makes “The Drop” an Amstel Eastern. The cast and crew of this New Jersey mob movie hail from the mean streets of Belgium, the land of waffles, chocolate and blonde beer (director Martin R. Roskam, cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis and co-star Matthias Schoenaerts). To fill other roles, they reached out to North Sea neighbors–England’s Tom Hardy and Sweden’s Noomi Rapace. The late James Gandolfini is the Eli Wallach of the cast—a veteran of these things that gives it an air of credibility. Because it is not an East Coast mob movie anymore unless James Gandolfini is in it.
“The Drop” takes place in one of those movie neighborhoods where everybody is up to no good and everybody knows that everybody else is up to no good. The plot is a straight shot of dive bars, mob money, Russian gangsters, and a utility van with more threatening things than plumbing on its mind. The film takes place in snow-shovel season with a downlit amber tint. Absolutely no good could come from all this.
In the thick of this, Bob Saginowski seems to be the only innocent person in a five-mile radius, a slightly slow bartender working for his cousin Marv at a mob-owned joint. He’s in for more than he bargained for when he rescues a puppy from a woman’s trash can. A man who saves a puppy can’t be all bad. Or can he? He does seem a little handy at Saran-wrapping a severed limb. Perhaps the term “Animal Rescue” – the title of the adapted Dennis Lehane short story–has one of those annoying double meanings of which short story writers are so fond.
Can a legion of pasty outsiders roll on some of the meanest streets in America? Quality actors deliver quality performances, particularly the leads. Hardy has a talent for personalities who seem to be hiding something. At the same time this isn’t “Rocky.” The actors might deliver on their talent, but they do not feel grown from this soil. Having Tony Soprano riding shotgun only increases the feel of dislocation.
There isn’t much new to “The Drop.” It recalls tough-streets films from “On the Waterfront” to “Killing Them Softly.” It is somewhere better than boring but somewhere less than compelling. The viewer is left wanting to know the ending without actually spending the time to watch it get there.