Screenwriter Blake Snyder wrote one of the best books on story structure called “Save the Cat”. In short, the fact is that if you expect your audience to join you on an extended journey that could end up taking an entire afternoon, then your main character must be likeable at all costs. Sure, he or she may have flaws, which are likely to be exposed within the story to help generate conflict, but not so much that it distracts you from assuming goodness or humanity. Many screenwriters insert a “pet the dog” scene into the introduction of the story, creating sympathy and suspense simultaneously through kindness or vulnerability. In the Disney classic Aladdin, your shirtless protagonist thief gives his stolen loaf of bread to two hungry children in the alley, proceeding to protect a small child from a local authority with a whip. In Twlight, Edward stops the sliding van from crushing Bella. But sometimes, that “save the cat” or “pet the dog” moment comes much more literally.
Bob’s a nice guy, played by Tom Hardy. He’s a bartender at a small Brooklyn bar owned by his Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini). In the film’s opening dialogue, Bob shares the realities of a money drop, an orchestrated scheme done by local gangsters to keep organized crime hidden from the public eye while dirty money exchanges hands. But when a robbery goes down at Cousin Marv’s joint, things take an interesting turn. Coincidently, Bob doesn’t feel like the rest of the people walking around the neighborhood. He is kind-hearted, polite, and cares about everyone, including a beat up dog that he found in a trash can while on his way home. Swedish actress Noomi Rapace showed up on my radar for the first time, a neglected woman who finds herself as unfortunately involved as Bob in the gangster situation, thanks to her sleezeball of an ex. Rapace and Hardy nurture the adorable puppy in a confusing and poorly-communicating expression of feelings from both sides, which plays a major role in the film’s building climax. Overall, the film is tense, yet consistently compelling, with a slow burn of suspense guiding you into the final minutes with genuine interest in the conclusion.
Director Michael R. Roskam proves that developing a character and arranging a good plot doesn’t have to take three hours and your entire evening; in fact, the character development can happen in under 30 seconds with the right, adorable puppy. The Drop isn’t your typical gangster film, although many may argue that given Gandolfini’s presence. The audience finds Roskam focusing on character-centric drama rather than bullets to the face. And it seems as though Tom Hardy has proven himself as a reliable actor that can single-handedly carry a film, as noted in my review last year of Locke. While the entire universe rants and raves about the films that snuck their way into the Oscar nominations and Golden Globe stage, The Drop was my years’ most underrated film, thanks to a stunning Hardy performance and a great final act from James Gandolfini.