There’s nothing quite so pointless as a movie about gloomy and depressed criminals. Why watch two hours about life on the other side of the law if there’s no kick to it? Crime movies are fun because they acknowledge the pleasures of transgression even as they show the wages of sin. So crooks on screen can be stupid, crazy, violent, funny, and even have panic attacks—but if the point the movie is making is that they’re withdrawn and brooding and in need of an SSRI, then it’s time to look for the exit.
Alas, that’s the case with The Drop, a crime drama set in and around a Brooklyn bar used by gangsters to launder money. This is an anachronistic Brooklyn—one full of working-class Italian and Irish guys who live in houses with furniture covered in protective plastic and go to Mass every morning at 8 a.m.; in real life, these types have long since decamped to Long Island. The only odd note is that the organized-crime family running things is Chechen.
The proprietor of the bar is played by James Gandolfini, in his final film performance. He’s such a joy to watch he almost makes you overlook the bleakness. But then the camera cuts back to the star, Tom Hardy, and back down you go into the slough of despond.
This is a shame, because the 37-year-old Hardy is a remarkable actor, one of the best of his generation. He can play villainous (he was Bane in The Dark Knight Rises), arrogant (a rogue intelligence agent in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), a tough but lovable Marine (in Warrior), and a backwoods moonshiner (in Lawless).
Most impressive is his performance in last year’s Locke, which you can now see on demand through your cable box. He is the only person on screen in this extraordinary movie, and over the course of an 85-minute car ride punctuated by many phone calls, he (and writer-director Steven Knight) lays bare the life of a very good man trying to do the right thing by his work, his wife, and his life in the aftermath of one very bad decision nine months earlier. It is one of the towering feats of acting in memory.
But here Hardy’s ability to play shades—and do flawless accents—deserts him. His character, Bob, is a seemingly slow-witted, decent guy who is loyal and courteous and true. Hardy slides from “dese-dem-dose” Brooklyn to a general African-American urban accent to the coal-country tones he used in Lawless. The movie’s director, Michaël R. Roskam, is Belgian, so he probably didn’t have any idea Hardy’s accent kept going off the rails.
Roskam has a very good eye for unsettling camera angles and for creating a sense of unease and menace. But his movie is as lugubrious as Hardy’s Bob, who goes to church, takes good care of a dog, is nice to a troubled young woman in the neighborhood (the deeply boring Noomi Rapace), and buys old ladies drinks at the bar. Hardy plays this stuff like Sylvester Stallone in the original Rocky, only Rocky is rueful and funny. Bob is just the drip of The Drop.
The twist in the movie, and it comes out near the end, is that Bob is more complicated than we supposedly thought. But it’s not much of a twist, as the movie sticks so close to him any canny viewer will have long since figured out that Bob Did Something in the Past He’s Trying to Repent For in the Present, and that the climax will come when Bad Bob comes out from his shell.
The Drop was written by the crime novelist Dennis Lehane, whose Boston-set books were the source material for Mystic River (2003), Gone Baby Gone (2007), and Shutter Island (2010). He has a gift for making ludicrous and unbelievable plots seem oddly realistic. The Drop could have used some of Lehane’s purple plotting, if only to allow us to climb out of the dreary pit of despair into which he, Hardy, and Roskam have chosen to plunge us.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.