Belgium film maker Michael R. Roskam follows up his startling debut Bullhead with the much more basic crime drama The Drop.

Tom Hardy plays Bob, a quiet bar tender at his Cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini) place. One night the bar is held up and the thieves make away with several thousand dollars. What makes things worse is that the money belongs to the Chechnya crime family who now control the bar and use it for their money “drops”. Soon after Bob comes across an injured puppy inside a trash can outside Nadia’s (Noomi Rapace) home. Bob takes the dog home and begins a friendship with Nadia, both of which attract the attention of her old boyfriend, the unhinged Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts).

drop2The Drop is ultimately an unsatisfying watch. It stands somewhere between a relationship drama and out-and-out crime film. Roskam seems to be making a throwback 70’s style New York drama. Where the criminal underworld setting is a cypher for larger emotional issues of their characters. Cousin Marv is a man desperate to be taken seriously as a real gangster but has been out muscled by the immigrant gangsters who have taken over his own neighbourhood leaving him bitter and useless. Nadia is emotionally damaged having self-harmed in the past and clearly dated the wrong men. Bob is clearly not quite all he seems. Quiet and seemingly simple he also is a man who is clearly done dark things in the past. The relationship he establishes with the puppy seems to be the most emotionally satisfying thing he’s ever engaged in. Aside from all this there’s a plot about money being robbed and the puppy’s old owner wanting him back.

Author Dennis Lehane, he who wrote Mystic River, writes the screenplay from his own novel ‘Animal Rescue’, the title of which suggests why the puppy plays such an important part of the films narrative. Within the film though the puppy plot sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure James Gandolfini’s talking about money laundering and stick ups, nothing new there. Tom Hardy looks like he’s about to beat people to death, sounds about right. But then Matthias Schoenaerts Eric deeds character pops up demanding money or the puppy and it turns out he’s Noomi Rapace’s ex. It seems both odd and very convenient for plot. Scenes between Hardy and Schoenaerts which should come across as tense and menacing just feel a bit stupid.

drop3It’s as though Lehane and Roskam were trying to elevate the drama above the simple criminal underbelly trappings of the script. But it may have worked out better in the end had it been a more straight forward criminal affair. Killing Them Softly tried sledgehammering it’s message about politics and the economy into it’s gangster mechanics and became insufferable. The Drop seems to be trying to say “look we’re a drama about damaged people not a shooty shooty gangster film” but after odd scenes talking about who owns a dog you’ll be crying out for more generic action.

So synonymous is James Gandolfini with Tony Soprano anytime he went near the crime genre after it’s hard to not sit there wishing you were watching an episode of the finest TV show ever made. That being said his performance is one of the films highlights, he was a master of playing the vulnerable villain. Hardy too can play tortured in his sleep. Gnarling his tongue round the New York accent he does seem to be channeling Brando in On the Waterfront. As on screen pairing with Rapace their scenes have a sweetness if they do sometimes lack chemistry. Elsewhere John Ortiz pops up as perhaps the worlds most irritating detective. All things considered though The Drop is by no means a bad film. It’s just that it really doesn’t add up to the sum of it’s parts. It passes the time but is something more of a puzzlement than an enjoyable film.

The Drop is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now via 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.