The Drop And The Nuances Of Masterful Acting

Who doesn't love a good gritty crime drama? Well, a lot of people, probably, but I'm not among them. I sat down this past week to finally watch The Drop, a movie based on a novel by Denis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone). I'd wanted to watch it for a while because it's become mostly known  as James Gandolfini's last movie before his untimely death.

Not to speak ill of Gandolfini, who was an incredibly talented actor, but the effect of his death on the film has given the short shrift to many of The Drop's best qualities, mostly notably Tom Hardy's performance as bartender Bob Saginowski.

Saginowski is a very Marlon Brando On The Waterfront type, which is to say that, if you were feeling less than generous, you might call him dumb and no one in the room would bat an eye. Bob's quiet, doesn't talk much, mostly a spectator who watches everything around him. Whenever he opens his mouth, what emerges is not an articulated statement, but instead the sort of anxious stumbling you'd expect from someone who's never in control of the situation.

For the whole flick, The Drop hints that something is not right with Saginowski. He's a bartender for a "drop bar," which is basically a mob bank. He shares knowing glances with Gandolfini about some distant awful thing that happened years past. When the big twist at the end of the movie happens, revealing who Bob Saginowski actually is, it doesn't feel cheap. The reason is that Hardy is so good at making Bob feel like an actual person. He doesn't play him as an over-the-top mentally challenged guy or a humorous doofus, but instead as a shy, sweet man.

That makes the twist, and all the violence that comes with it, genuinely shocking even though the movie is telling you at every turn that things are not what they seem. His smiles at fellow outcast Nadia (played perfectly by Noomi Rapace) are not lecherous but genuinely caring, and his care for the puppy he takes in is genuinely heartwarming.

In another actor's hands, it'd be really easy to make all of these elements painfully cliche, like scenes from yesteryear's romcoms. However, Hardy mines those tropes for what they're worth, hiding Saginowski within layers. Yes, we get the see where he adorably hides his puppy in his jacket so the dog can tag along when he and Nadia grab coffee at a diner, but there are also scenes that speak to the malevolence heading in the character's heart, like the dagger eyes he shoots a thug trying to blackmail him.

Beyond Hardy's performance, what makes The Drop work is the craft in the storytelling, particularly the conclusion. The Drop never asks us to condone or condem Saginowski's actions, never brings him to justice, but simply offers a look at his life. It's up to us, the viewer, to decide if the character's actions redeem the evils he committed, or if his good deeds are simply just a veneer to hide the monster he actually is.

But really though, look at him. This guy? A violent sociopath? Come onnnnn. Right?