One kind of crime story sticks to the crime, sometimes straying into comedy (the Oceans films, for instance) or horror. But another sort fills the slot that larger, cosmic myths used to fill: they seek the origins of good and evil and plumb the shoals of redemption and damnation.

The Drop (along with other stories by Dennis Lehane, like Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone, and Mystic River) is of the second type. People (mostly men) do bad, even reprehensible, definitely irreversible things. And then they suffer the consequences, which are less about punishment than psychological self-torture.

Tom Hardy in 'The Drop'
Image: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Tom Hardy in 'The Drop'

Two such men are at the center of The Drop: Bob (Tom Hardy) and Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, in his last role). Cousin Marv owns a bar called "Cousin Marv's Bar" in Brooklyn, or at least he did until a few years ago, when the mob came knocking and he caved. Now he just looks like he owns the bar, though he's functionally just the manager, and he lives with his sister and watches his life pass by.

Bob tends bar - he is, in fact, Cousin Marv's actual cousin, though everyone calls him that - and seems to have a pretty quiet life otherwise. He lives in the house he grew up in, both his parents having died. The bar is sometimes the designated "drop bar" for all the under-the-table transactions that go on around the city; he takes care of that when necessary. He gives the old lady at the end of the bar free drinks and takes the ribbings the regulars give him. He (literally) saves a puppy he finds beaten and abandoned in a trash can, cleans its wounds, names it for a saint, and adopts it.

He also goes to 8am mass every day. But he doesn't take the Eucharist.

That's only the clue that there's something going on beneath Bob's own puppy-like exterior for much of the film, which is evidence of both a steady directorial hand (Michaël Roskam, in only his second feature, the first in English) and the rich talent of Hardy, Gandolfini, and Noomi Rapace, who plays the girl whose trash can contained the puppy and a sort of reverse femme fatale. Because of course, what's on the surface is never the whole story. A robbery goes awry in the bar, but naturally, it's not what it looks like on the surface. Nobody and nothing is. They don't call it the underbelly for nothing.

I have the distinct impression the film could have slid off into the territory of the hokey, or at least forgettable. Thankfully, Hardy and Gandolfini have it under control. If you're a fan, then it's worth seeing the film, even just to see Gandolfini one last time.

And it's also interesting from a broader perspective: these are religious characters, the type who make (or are forced to make) bad choices for pragmatic reasons, but hope for salvation, not sure if they'll make it in when they get to heaven's gates. (Bob says as much explicitly in a voiceover.)

They do these things because devotion and duty haven't gotten them much of anywhere. Virtue exists in this world, along with protecting the innocent (women, children, old, and young). But for the wicked, the world is nasty, brutish, and surprising. The end comes fast and without warning.

In a world like this, I think, religion is neither cultural nor a crutch: it is a place where a man can both acknowledge his guilt (and refrain from receiving forgiveness) and find some consolation that this is not all there is. There is nothing therapeutic about this religious sense, nothing about Jesus and me sorting things out between us. It is a desperate cry for unmerited favor. Which, whatever it might lack theologically, is a deeply humble way to live.

Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in 'The Drop'
Image: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in 'The Drop'

So, all that said, here is the one problem with The Drop, based on Lehane's short story Animal Rescue: the ending is so bad. It tries to tie up the story, and it does that, but in a way that feels completely stapled onto a story that has a lot of true, careful reflection on things like heaven and hell. I don't know how the short story ended, but given the fact that Lehane wrote the screenplay (and, now, a novelization of the screenplay), I have a bad feeling that it's in the original.

The problem is not merely that it's bad storytelling, the very epitome of summarizing everything in case the viewer missed it, but that it also seems to fix the problem without earning it. I won't give it away. But I wish the film had ended two scenes earlier.

Caveat Spectator

Lots of bad language, including the f-word, and violence; there's a severed hand, people getting shot (in slightly more graphic detail than usual), and cruelty toward animals implied. Mostly exactly what you'd expect. And there is, of course, plenty of drinking in a bar.

Alissa Wilkinson is CT's chief film critic and writes the Watch This Way blog. She is also an assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She tweets @alissamarie.

The Drop
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(7 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (For some strong violence and pervasive language.)
Directed By
Michaël R. Roskam
Run Time
1 hour 46 minutes
Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini
Theatre Release
September 12, 2014 by Fox Searchlight Pictures
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