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Soul of a barman

21 November 2014

by Stephen Brown


OFTEN in films we are given a privileged point of view, let into a secret long before anyone on screen is. But sometimes, as in The Drop (Cert. 15), we are excluded from the information necessary to work it out.

Bob, a Brooklyn barman, is possibly somewhere on the autism spectrum, and is just a bit slow on picking up social clues, perhaps. He is played by the English actor Tom Hardy in an accent at times nearly impenetrable.

Bob works for his cousin Marv - James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) in his final screen role - although it isn't now a family business. The bar is now owned by Chechen gangsters, who are using it as place to drop off money in need of laundering. Bob keeps his head down. He goes to work, goes home, and goes to mass, it would appear, daily. That's about it, except that he never makes his communion. Why?

Bob's set routines are disrupted when one night he finds among some rubbish a badly beaten puppy. The bin belongs to Nadia (played by Noomi Rapace, The Girl in the original Swedish films of Stieg Larsson's trilogy), who helps him to take care of it. From thereon, Bob enters a world that he knows little of, and that he seems ill-equipped to deal with. The dog's owner (a disturbing Matthias Schoenaerts), or so he says, violently threatens Bob and the dog unless his extortionate demands are met. Marv, meanwhile, is not that cleverly trying to outwit his shady bosses, and ends up being investigated by the police.

Detective Torres (John Ortiz) turns out to be someone we have already seen at Bob's Roman Catholic church. Torres asks him why he never receives the Blessed Sacrament, but fails to get a satisfactory response. The church, rather like Bob's forlorn existence, is lacking in friends to the point where it is going to be converted into, as Marv puts it, "condos with stained-glass windows". The viewer senses that Bob and his church are on the verge of extinction. Their inherent goodness and trust in old certainties seem to be out of time with the grimness surrounding them.

Gandolfini expresses the general state of things in another superbly delivered line: "We're dead already . . . just still walking around."

The film is a partnership between the Belgian director Michaël Roskam (Bullhead) and the writer Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) - a marriage made in heaven, you might say. They bring to the piece a strong feeling of how mortal sins shape our universe and affect subsequent moral choices. The Catholicism of The Drop permeates the film, redeeming misspent moments past, often through crucial decisions that, strangely, don't appear to be the result of agonised soul-searching. Why should they be, when the world that these characters inhabit is so black-and-white?

Simplistic they may be for those who have the luxury of being able to afford prescribed morals. But, as the detective intimates to Bob, those caught up in life-and-death situations know more than they can tell. Bob's faith is simple, not given to words, only actions - doing some things but refraining from others, such not as making his communion. It fits.

On current release. 

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