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  Drop, The Puppy Love
Year: 2014
Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Stars: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Mathias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Michael Aronov, Morgan Spector, Michael Esper, Ross Bickell, James Frecheville, Tobias Segal, Patricia Squire, Ann Dowd, Chris Sullivan
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Bob Saginowksi (Tom Hardy) works as a bartender in a Brooklyn establishment, keeps his head down and doesn’t get involved because at this stage in his life, knowing what he knows, he finds it better to keep everyone at arm’s length. That goes double for where his job is, for it is known as a drop bar, that is a place where Mafia types leave their ill-gotten gains to be picked up later once the heat has cooled, and Bob dutifully takes the cash and stashes it in the safe until such time as it is to be retrieved. He’s not the middle man, he’s not a major player, he simply is a very small cog in a very large machine, and doesn’t even have a stake in the bar, as that is owned by his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), who appears increasingly restless…

This being a yarn not only based on a Dennis Lehane short story, but adapted by him into the bargain, it’s only a matter of time before criminality asserts itself in the lead character’s life, and so it is that the bar is held up, which causes great disgruntlement for the actual businessmen running the show, a group of Chechen gangsters who make it clear they are not going to tolerate any interference with their dealings, these being the sort of movie lawbreakers who come down like a ton of bricks on anyone who crosses them. Whether the real thing is that unforgiving or not, Lehane was a writer for whom a ring of authenticity was always important, no matter how twisty and potentially contrived his plotting could get.

Therefore in the hands of director Michaël R. Roskam, a sense of watching a story unfold that could easily have happened in the neighbourhood it depicted was notable, even if there were elements such as Bob’s religious leanings where he attends mass but never takes the communion that were strictly of a movie movie bent. Though that was nothing to how he and Lehane engaged our sympathies when a puppy was added to the mix shortly after the gritty milieu had been established, a small animal Bob finds in the bin outside the house of fragile night worker Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and the reason she’s fragile is brought into focus over the course of the rest of the film, with Bob’s decision to look after the pooch mirrored in his care of new friend Nadia.

Is he being brought out of his shell at last by both woman and dog, and will this help him come to terms with whatever he feels so badly about in his past? Alas, there are forces at work that see to it he may be better off as the taciturn barman who everyone takes for granted, though the plotting wishes Nadia to be looked after since she cannot protect herself against the man who has been hanging around watching Bob’s activities, the man (Matthias Schoenaerts) who injured and dumped the puppy and as we discover injured Nadia as his ex-girlfriend both emotionally and physically. The mechanics of rendering Bob endearing were fairly blatant, but that didn’t make it any the less satisfying when he is pushed into action.

He is, in spite of Hardy’s insistence on using that tone of voice combined with the Brooklyn accent that made him sound rather oddball, sticking up for the sort of person who would be downtrodden by the bullies of this world, which initially we mistakenly believe includes Bob, then as events are brought to a head eventually understand he was both a thinker and a doer, rather than simply the former and nothing else. It was a bold attempt at audience manipulation, both for the hero and against the bad guys, yet it managed to succeed even if you were well aware how your perceptions were being prodded, with an ambiguity about how it resolved itself inviting you to wonder if Bob did the right thing, and whether he was necessary in this harsh world, the knight in shining armour who kept that armour under wraps. Special mention would go to Gandolfini, whose final role this was; you could argue it was back with him playing his usual type, yet he brought insight into what could have been strictly by the numbers. A minor work, then, but neat and accomplished in its small way. Music by Marco Beltrami.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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