Understated films are a tricky one. Sometimes a lack of action, and a focus upon a more “realistic” portrayal of life, can run the risk of being labelled boring. I for one cannot stand No Country For Old Men: other than a few notable scenes, I found it very dull, and the ending was too random and anti-climactic. I had the same problem with another Cohen Brothers film, The Man Who Wasn’t There. But I am not someone who needs full-throttle, Die Hard esq action in order to enjoy a film. I absolutely loved What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Glen Garry Glen Ross, and more recently enjoyed August: Osage County, to name but a few.
Usually people would think that well acted and interesting characters would suffice, and I used to think this, until I saw The Master. I’m going to have to steal one of my friend’s quotes for this, because there is quite simply no better way to describe it: great acting, shit film. Clearly then, low-key films need more than just character. They need flavour. Whether this is through quirkiness, tension, romance: we need something to keep us interested. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t enjoy No Country For Old Men: I simply did not care whether Josh Brolin’s character died or not.
The Drop however, is a different kettle of fish. Although there is little in the way of action, there is a compelling grittiness. The violence is infrequent, and though graphic in one particular scene, is never over the top, or gratuitous. The same subtlety can be seen in the use of a variety of criminals and their differing motivations. Whether they are powerful and ruthless, desperate, or resentful, all the characters are very much real, and resist being stereotypical. And as for the police, their presence is felt and known, but of little importance: a mere inconsequential backdrop of almost false authority.
I think one of the main aspects which makes this film work so well, is that Dennis Lehane adapted it from his own short story, Animal Rescue. As is often the case with short stories, they are snapshots: a small window, in which we can glimpse at a much larger world. And this is exactly what we get with The Drop. It is not pretending to be anything more than it is. It hints at the existence of a life outside its borders, but is unconcerned with it.
The other aspect is the acting. For those who only know Tom Hardy as Bane, he is much more than a monster with a weird voice. Despite his immense popularity, I would say Hardy is a better actor than Benedict Cumberbatch, and one of the best of the current crop. If you don’t believe me, watch his performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Hardy’s character, Bob, appears at first to be as simple as his name; yet Hardy brings a warmth and humanity to the role. His scenes with the puppy, which could have easily been clichéd and a bit lame, were endearing. This is compounded by the sensitivity and vulnerability shown by the sharp and independent, Nadia, and their ensuing friendship. We gradually learn more of the characters through the unnerving Eric Deeds, and his unpredictability provides a continuing tension throughout. And if this wasn’t enough, we then have the last feature performance of James Gandolfini, who sulks and broods through the film with great conviction.
Inevitably, as is the way with such films, not everyone will like The Drop and probably won’t agree with what I’m going on about. But if you like low-key films, with a strong cast and Director, I would highly recommend this film. Released between an intergalactic Blockbuster and a thrilling, historical drama, The Drop, was perhaps always likely to fly under the radar. Which is a shame, because it’s probably the pick of the bunch.