11 October 2014

LFF 2014 Part I: The Drop

When director Michaël Roskam talked about his new film The Drop at its London Film Festival screening tonight, he explained that his vision was of a Taxi Driver directed by Frank Capra. In fact, it's more like Mystic River with a hefty dose of Marley & Me, but Roskam has created a complex and interesting crime drama with stand-out performances by Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini, in one of his last roles.

Hardy plays Bob, a lonely bar-tender who works at Cousin Marv's bar. Marv (Gandolfini) is in fact Bob's cousin as well as his employer, although the bar is now a money drop owned by some shady Chechens who drop by from time to time to remind Marv and Bob who is boss, and to ensure that the money dropped off by local hoodlums makes it back to the right people. Walking home one night, Bob finds a pit bull puppy in a dustbin outside the house of a woman called Nadia (Noomi Rapace). The dog has been seriously injured and Nadia helps Bob to dress the dog's wounds and then encourages him to adopt it to avoid it being rehomed with a bad owner.

Bob and Nadia develop a tentative friendship, bringing them both a little happiness — what woman could ever resist Tom Hardy bearing an adorable puppy? But Bob begins to face some troubles at work when some of the Chechens' drop money is stolen in a robbery at the bar. Meanwhile, an unstable and menacing guy called Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts) keeps showing up, claiming that he is the rightful owner of Bob's dog (named Rocco for one of the saints depicted in the stained-glass window in his local church).

It's hard to say too much more without spoiling the film, but there are plenty of twists and turns, and we have to constantly update our understanding of the characters' motivations and 'goodness' or otherwise. As with Hardy's last film, LockeThe Drop is very much a portrait of a man in crisis and he is, as ever, excellent as the troubled Bob, and gives a wonderfully complex performance (Roskam, in the Q&A tonight, said he couldn't take any credit other than hiring all of his first choices for the lead acting roles). Gandolfini is also good, offering a multi-layered portrayal of a very ambiguous character, and Rapace seemed to be well cast as the sometimes-tough, sometimes-vulnerable Nadia. Powerlessness, Roskam explained afterwards, is one of the central themes in the film: characters are unable to do what they want because of forces beyond their control.

The Drop is adapted from a short story by Dennis Lehane called Animal Rescue and if you've seen Mystic River or Gone Baby Gone, you can't help but draw comparisons. Animal Rescue was set in Boston — Lehane's hometown — but Roskam moved the setting to Brooklyn where there are many outsiders. Roskam and some of the crew visited several hundred Brooklyn bars when doing research for the film, and the bar depicted is based on three or four real bars. Brooklyn itself is one of the film's key characters, and it certainly isn't the shiny, hipster Brooklyn often depicted on screen; no, it's raw, gritty and rough around the edges. The film itself is gritty too and often dark or troubling, but it isn't without its comedy — and this is mainly down to Hardy's superb comic timing and delivery.

Unfortunately, Hardy couldn't attend the screening as he was working, although Rapace was there with Roskam for the Q&A. This was a shame because it would have been fantastic to hear Hardy talking about the movie (and his love of puppies). Sadly, I'm only going to one other film at this year's London Film Festival, as I was supposed to be going to a conference next week and by the time I found out I wasn't going, most of the films I wanted to attend were already sold out. Somewhat à contre-cœur, I booked a ticket for the surprise film on Wednesday night — none of the four previous surprise films I've attended have been a particularly good surprise, and yet somehow I keep going back for more...

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