It's The Things You Don't See Coming That Make The Tom Hardy-Driven The Drop.

The Drop.
Director:
Michael R. Roskam.
Writer: Dennis Lehane.
Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace,James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, James Frecheville, Michael Aronov.
Where it's playing: Everywhere.

The opening scene of The Drop is straight exposition: Through a voice-over, our hero Bob (Tom Hardy) explains the way that money gets deposited to the bosses of the Brooklyn underground. In essence, because the money's not legally made, it can't be stored in banks; instead, it gets dropped off at mobbed-up spots that rotate in and out of the responsibility on a nightly basis.

Just so happens, one of these depositories is the bar where Bob works, a dive once owned by Bob's cousin Marv (the late James Gandolfini) — a spot that's called, get this, Cousin Marv's.

But Bob? He's not one of those hard guys he's so often seen around, he swears. He sure doesn't seem to be, either: He's loyal to his friends but a little slow on the uptake — a doormat lacking any real confidence or social skills beyond the ability to squeeze quirky fun facts into forced conversation.

No, as Bob is so often quick to remind us all, he just tends bar.

Anyway, you can probably see where this is going.

Or, wait, can you? Yes, this much is clear from the onset of The Drop: There's definitely going to be a big, dramatic and likely climactic scene on a night when Cousin Marv's is supposed to be the bank for the bad guys. That much is painfully obvious.

What comes before that moment, however, is a head-spinning, often-times frustrating series of events that don't really seem to add up — until, that is, they of course rather cathartically do. Essentially, it's a series of introductions: First, Bob meets Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a waitress going through a tough breakup; naturally, it's round-the-way street thug Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), who just so happens to be Nadia's ex, that comes next. Along the way, there are run-ins with other neighborhood fixtures: Chechen gangster Chovka (Michael Aronov) and his crew of lackeys; wannabe bad guy Fitz (James Frecheville) and his less-committed brother; and, finally, curious police detective Torres (John Ortiz), who only wishes he saw what this film's audiences do. Everyone here is looking for the next way to get a leg up on everyone else, too — well, except for Bob, Nadia and Rocco, the adorable pit bull pup that Bob and Nadia rescue and eventually bond over. These three just want to live their own lives, and maybe even together.

But, of course, as is the case with most everything written by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island, Gone, Baby ,Gone), the circumstances surrounding these characters can't let that happen too easily. And, working with a Lehane-helmed script based upon his earlier “Animal Rescue” short story, Belgian director Michael Roskam sets that tone almost too well: The first 75 minutes of the film are a giant stress ball, with crappy dump upon crappier dump getting constantly shoveled into Bob and Marv's responsibility satchels. There's no doubting the bleakness of the tone or the glass-half-emptier outlook with which these characters see their lives. Life is gray in this swath of Brooklyn, always and forever — and when Cousin Marv's is robbed and some Chechen money gets swiped, setting into motion a series of retaliatory ploys, it's apparent that things are on the verge of getting somehow darker.

And, try as he might, not even Bob's able to see things differently. It's this struggle that's truly at the center of the film — and Hardy, essentially playing the polar opposite of his Bane villain in The Dark Knight Rises (not to mention a far cry from his over-the-top Bronson), bears that burden rather convincingly. He brings an aw-shucks appeal to the overwhelmed and slumped-shouldered barkeep at the center of our story. It's really quite the deft performance — proof positive that there's depth to Hardy beyond good looks, face masks and British smarm. This performance isn't what you'd expect to see from the actor; while Gandolfini is of course unsurprisingly solid as a mob-connected has-been looking to turn his fortunes, Hardy runs laps around Mr. Soprano specifically because he so well flips the expectations that audiences may have of him.

Anyone playing close enough attention to Hollywood in recent years knew this kind of performance was coming from Hardy sooner or later — just as everyone who will ever see this film knows that the Big Scene At The End is coming.

But it's what The Drop does with these expectations — of Hardy and that Big Scene alike — that really makes the film. Because for all that you see in The Drop — and, yes, this is a mob thriller, so there's plenty — it's the things you don't see coming that will really blow you away.

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