In this penetrating evocation of Brooklyn noir, bartenders, troubled tough damsels, and the mafia collide in a double cross cum heist that goes catastrophically wrong. Who will get the money? Who’ll get two in the head? And How can Noomi Rapace go from being an archeologist discovering xenomorphs in space to a tragically flawed, battered, Brooklyn cutie in the space of just a few years?
Director Michael Roscam and crime author Dennis Lehane is how. With books and adaptations of his books (plus episodes of “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire”) like “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone” under his belt, Mr Lehane goes back to the seedy streets of Boston (albeit the movie itself is set in Brooklyn) with the first film he’s ever written by and finds us what appears to be an unassuming bartender in Bob Saginowski – a less pneumatically-carved Tom Hardy playing a dead-to-the-world alcohol-pourer, he of the shady past but arguably without ambition or future.
“I just tend the bar,” begins Bob in his opening spiel and it’s that kind of deadma tone, pitched just casually enough and just empathic enough, that makes us suspect he’s no ordinary tender of said bar.
Soon, the discovery of an abandoned and abused puppy leads our lonely bartender Bob out of his constricted world into a riveting journey through a rarely seen side of working-class Brooklyn. An original novella by Lehane titled “Animal Rescue,” the movie itself centers around an unusual love story against the volatile backdrop of organized crime’s unbreakable grip on the small pubs and taverns used as money-laundering “drops.”
Bob Saginowski slings drinks in his Cousin Marv’s (the late James Gandolfini) bar and looks the other way whenever the Brooklyn crime bosses, and the volatile Chechens who actually own the bar, use the place as a temporary bank for their ill-gotten gains. He keeps to himself, attending Mass daily at the old neighborhood parish church. He never takes Communion.
While Gandolfini as Cousin Marv – and the knowledge that this is the LAST movie he made — casts an indelible shadow over the rest of the cast, it is Tom Hardy’s performance – often supported by Rapace’s tortured waif without any exit strategy and a bad taste in men — as the reluctantly “still in the life but not quite” Bob, his restrained violence, and treatment of a helpless pup that carries the quiet and subtle proceedings of this noir.
Bob’s simple life becomes much more complicated when he discovers a battered pitbull puppy in a trash can and he’s forced to turn to his neighbor Nadia (Noomi Rapace) for help, he nurses the puppy back to health, as their mutual concern for the dog sparks an unexpected attraction between them.
It’s not a crime thriller, it’s not even one of those introspective heist films. It’s simply a closer look at the underworld through those peripherals and how even those small moments, those dips into the cesspool affect their straight life. Hardy never overshoots, preferring something between Forrest Gump and the ordinary decent bank robber of Ben Affleck’s Doug MacRay in “The Town.”
The pitch serves him well and makes this noir even more interesting with its setting, an idealized metaphorical Brooklyn, often the instigator of severe events. Balanced by the dog (Rocco) and Nadia (Noomi Rapace), Hardy and his lips, knotted eyebrows, and Brooklyn consonant-heavy drawl take us through the journey of meticulously built psychological walls crumbling.
It’s not an easy movie to watch especially for the impatient, the brutish, and those uninterested in the genre expecting a crime spree with shotguns and boobs. In fact a gaggle of twentysomethings, a girl posse beside us at the media premiere, were unable to be entertained by Gandolfini’s last acting gig or Tom Hardy’s emotiveness – they kept talking through the movie, and raised their voices at pivotal, often counter-intuitively serene scenes. But I suspect that a failure of those freeloaders rather than anything on the part of Roscam or the filmmakers. It certainly isn’t Mr. Hardy’s shortcoming or Ms Rapace never taking her top off.
The movie does indeed teach you its cadence, and soon you get embroiled in this world where violence erupts in sporadic shots, like a pistol jamming, a misfire, just as the barrel touches your head.
Who is Bob, really, and what is going to go down at the bar? And why are people fighting over a cute pit bull pup? Watch it because this noir is real, if you’ve never been “in the life,” this noir is hardcore.
8. GET A CUTE PUP
7. BONE UP ON BOSTON AND NY NOIR
With the decision to set the movie in New York and not in Boston, the producers’ wish list for a new location was short and specific. First, they wanted an older, East Coast city.
“The other important element was that it had to be the kind of neighborhood that originally grew up around the Catholic Church and still gives great importance to that,” said location scout Larocca. “That world is vanishing. Once we locked onto that, it had to Boston, New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh or maybe Philly.” The end result is an idealized, almost mythological Brooklyn built from bits and pieces of different neighborhoods.
After considering all those cities, it became clear that Bob’s story was meant to unfold in Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough and a traditionally blue-collar enclave that has welcomed generations of immigrants to America. Although recent gentrification has made areas like Park Slope and Williamsburg a destination for urban professionals and hipsters, the borough’s lesser-known neighborhoods still retain their working-class roots.
6. MOVE YOUR MONEY, BRO: WHAT IS A “DROP BAR”?
“Dennis had done a lot of research on organized crime,” says producer Larocca. “He knew that at some point in history, the Mafia decided it was safer to consolidate their funds. With all the money in one place, they could keep better track of it. If they were knocked off, they were more likely to figure out who did it. Dennis took that as inspiration to make up the concept of a Drop Bar.”
So then: The Drop Bar keeps dirty money out of the hands of law enforcement as a depository for one night. Proprietors usually never know in advance, until the day before, if their establishment is going to be used as a drop bar. And it’s a wise idea not to refuse, mostly because the bar is given a huge cut for their silence and cooperation.
“It could be bets placed with bookies or massage parlor receipts, anything that brings in money that cannot go on the books,” explained director Roskam. “The cash could be evidence and needs to be kept out of the hands of the police. If you always hide it in the same place, it’s just a matter of time before the police find that. They keep it moving, so if the police figure out where they stash the cash, they will always be late.”
Lehane admitted that he has no idea whether the stories that inspired the drop bar idea are true, but “I ran with it,” he said. “I’m a big believer in Einstein’s line that imagination is sometimes more important than knowledge. I didn’t get too hung up on what may or may not exist in the real world, because this story is more ‘once upon a time in Brooklyn. . .’ That’s the feeling of it—an ogre comes out of his cave and he begins to step out of the animal part of himself.”
5. SCOPE OUT THE OST
Beltrami’s musical palette has since expanded to virtually all film genres. He has received two Academy Award nominations for “Best Score.” The first was for his work on “3:10 To Yuma,” starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, and the second was for his work on the Academy Award winning film for “Best Picture,” with “The Hurt Locker.”
4. READ THE ORIGINAL SHORT STORY “ANIMAL RESCUE”
Chernin Entertainment, the production company founded by former President and Chief Operating Officer of News Corporation Peter Chernin, bought the screen rights to “Animal Rescue” shortly after it was published in an anthology called “Boston Noir,” which Lehane also edited.
“The original story is about a guy who discovers an abused pit bull in a trash can,” said Mike Larocca, producer for Chernin Entertainment. “By saving that dog, he sets in motion a series of complications that change his life. In the end, it’s not as much about a man rescuing a dog, as it is about a dog rescuing a man.”
Lehane initially set out to write a novel, but he never got past the first chapter, which became a short story. He was somewhat surprised when Chernin Entertainment approached him about making the tale into a movie. In fact, he was already been considering adapting it into his first screenplay.
“It was the only book I’ve ever started that kicked out on me,” Lehane said. “I put it in a drawer and never went back to it, but I kept thinking about Bob, the puppy he rescues and the woman he meets. I think it stuck with me all this time because I was fascinated by the idea of loneliness. We almost never speak about how devastating it can be. I’m of the belief that it kills more people than cancer. So I started from the idea of one guy, Bob, who is exceptionally lonely.”
“The short story was very insular,” Lehane added. “There was Bob, Nadia and Eric Deeds. Cousin Marv was a minor character who evolved into a major part. I had just the bare bones of the plot. I think of the short story as the bud and the movie as the flower in full bloom.”
3.DONTCHA FALL FOR THE GIRL WITH A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
“Brooklyn has a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic sound and we worked with a cast that bring different sounds to the table,” Roscane explains. “Nadia, the character that Noomi plays, speaks to the reality of Brooklyn and of the United States in general. People come from other places. They make a life. Their children grow up listening to the language that their parents spoke, and blend it with the sounds that they hear in the neighborhoods, and we have a hybrid. But they are all ‘from the neighborhood.’”
2. KEEP IT REAL WITH (THE LATE) COUSIN MARV
1. BE LIKE BOB: NEVER LET ‘EM SEE YOU COMIN’
It all starts with Rocco, the puppy. “Bob made a decision ten years ago to shut himself away from humanity, from feeling,” said Dennis Lehane.
He continues: “Suddenly something begins to open up in him. He meets this woman (Nadia). He starts to re-join the human race. The largest dramatic question of the film is, can Bob really be rescued? “Like most of the people in the film, he is chasing something that’s already in the rearview mirror. They’re trying to get back to a self that doesn’t exist anymore. That idea fascinated me as I was writing the script. I think the audience will feel an emotional connection with the characters that leads them to some sort of emotional truth about their own lives, about the moments when they seem to be stuck in gear. The people who successfully navigate those waters are the ones who will ultimately reach a happy ending.”
Keep your anger cuffed and caged until you need to set it loose, and you just might survive being The Drop for a night.
The Drop is rated R-16 and is currently screening in theaters. All photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures and Chernin Entertainment.