The accents are confusing. You might think you hear the “ah” of a Boston “r,” and maybe you do; the movie is based on a short story by Dennis Lehane, whose novels became a key part of the Boston crime screen genre: Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River. It’s almost weird when a movie like The Town or The Departed isn’t actually based on a Lehane book. But maybe you’re hearing things; James Gandolfini sure isn’t doing a Boston accent, but who in fuck knows what Tom Hardy is doing—something both mushy and groggy, like he just woke up with half-Italian marbles stuck in his cheeks. Also, the locations are clearly Brooklyn. But Brooklyn has subbed for Boston in the movies before. Then someone confirms it, mush-mouthed but audible: this movie takes place in Brooklyn. It’s at least half an hour, maybe even twice as long, before you can put a time to the place: at first, no one seems to have cell phones, but eventually they turn up, and the TVs, even the ones in shabby apartments, are all flatscreen.
The Drop is indeed set in 2014 Brooklyn, transposed there by its author, adapting his short story “Animal Rescue,” which is set in Dorchester. If it’s trying to evoke a particular contemporary Brooklyn, it’s not one I know (though that could describe all kinds of contemporary Brooklyns)— but director Michael Roskam, making his English language debut, captures something bigger, in this quite small movie: a pervasive sense of abandonment and a lurking sense of unease. The Drop movies slower than most other Lehane adaptations, stretching out a concise story past the 90-minute mark; like Killing Them Softly (Boston-set; Gandolfini-costarring; not Lehane; Louisiana-shot—if you’re keeping score), it has an inciting robbery that doesn’t, at first, seem to incite all that much. Softly at least called in Brad Pitt’s enforcer character pretty quickly; The Drop observes Bob (Hardy) tend bar for Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) and, in more detail than you might expect, adopt a puppy he finds outside the home of Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Cops, the gangsters who have conscripted Marv’s bar (he used to own it; now he just runs it) for occasional “drops” of dirty money, and some sketchy locals all sniff around menacingly. Bob, meanwhile, goes to the pet supply store with Nadia and bonds with his new dog.
There’s a fair amount going on underneath all of this—though it wouldn’t have to be so the case for this material to retain its low-key charm, as long as Hardy was still there. After this film, Locke, and his turn as Bane in the Batman movie, he can officially lay claim to the weirdest-sounding characters in movies, but these odd, incongruent voices (dude’s actually British, which makes a strange kind of sense) somehow enhance his charisma—like charisma, they’re a touch otherworldy. At one point, Bob apologies to Nadia for a phrase that “came out sideways,” and that describes the way he talks for a lot of the movie—Bob often sounds like he’s struggling for answers. Not coming up with lies, mind, but searching for articulation in situations where he might rather just stay quiet. His interplay with the late Gandolfini, as the aggrieved Marv, has the natural, unforced chemistry of two men who have known each other a long time, and worked together, in whatever capacity, almost as long as that. Gandolfini is best-known for playing a relatively prominent (if not top-level) Mafioso, but the amount of nuance he brought to smaller-time hoods in movies like this draws out the grieving process even more.
There are plot turns in The Drop, as there tend to be in crime movies, even low-key ones that spend a lot of time with a puppy. I won’t get into them. They’re reasonably satisfying, but not necessarily what lingers as the credits roll. This version of Brooklyn, retrofitted for Lehane and Roskam, looks surprisingly desolate. People expect to know each other from the neighborhood, even if they don’t; everyone seems to have absent friends or acquaintances in common. Maybe it’s just the winter—the movie is mostly set between Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday—but the occasional talk of churchgoing combined with the quiet city landscapes bring to mind Brooklyn playing a kind of purgatory. Not one that tortures you with what could have been. One where you just kind of sit, and maybe at some point you make a move to get out.