Year Released: 2014
Directed by: Michael R. Roskam
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini
(R, 106 min.)
“There are some sins that you commit that you can't come back from, no matter how hard you try.” Bob Saginowski, The Drop
This is a low-key crime drama, so don’t expect shootouts, car chases, or steamy scenes of passion. Certainly not a blazing fire, not even a slow burn, just grey, barely warm ashes we are compelled to sift through. Ashes that remain long after the flame has died away.
The fascination of this gritty film is the unflinching vivisection of the soft underbelly of working class Boston, where crime is a way of life, a ritual as regular as attending mass or throwing back a few cool ones a the local bar.
It’s the same portrait of aimless, often thuggish existence that drew us into Matt Damon’s 1997 breakout hit, Good Will Hunting. The hardscrabble life Mark Wahlberg and a transformed Christian Bale brought to the screen in 2010’s The Fighter.
What really nails the picture, though, is Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bob, the quiet bartender in Cousin Marv’s Bar. He gives the locals a drink on the house in their annual remembrance of a dead comrade now gone some 7 years. He continues to fill a little old lady’s drinks even as her bar tab runs on empty. He attends mass daily and rescues a wounded pup from the garbage. And he quietly collects the local crime stash under the counter and waits patiently for the Chechen mobsters to collect it out back after hours.
He is Rocky without the boxing chops or ambition. Ernest Borgine’s Marty, a bachelor resigned to his solitary existence, but without Marty's band of buddies. Tom Hardy gets into Bob’s skin so effortlessly that we hardly notice. He hides a pain behind his eyes, almost squinting at the sun even in his darkened bar. His walk has just the hint of a shuffle, disillusionment not completely settled in yet, just arranging the furniture.
It’s not the gestured, almost persnickety posturing Phillip Seymour Hoffman pulled of so well in Capote, but the almost effortless resignation Marlon Brando stamped on his downtrodden Terry Malloy in 1954’s multiple Oscar winning On the Waterfront. Hardy’s Bob has the same unyielding resolve of Brando’s Stanley Kowalski from 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, tempered perhaps with gentleness, but relentless nevertheless.
But the rescued pit bull, bruised and bloody on the outside as maybe Bob is inside, ushers in a change. So does the Nadia (Noomi Rapace) the owner of the trashcan where Rocco (the pup’s new name) is discovered. As Lauren Humphries-Brooks reminds us,
Noomi Rapace is going to have her own way when it comes to naming the dog, though. The Drop features the most important things that every movie should have: good-looking men and puppies.
The way Bob accepts her lead on the name tells us quite a bit about their burgeoning relationship, as well as Bob himself. At first he wants to name the dog Rocco, after the saint whose statue he sees in church, the one with the faithful dog next to him. But then the other side of him, the mysterious darker side that prompts him to attend mass daily but never to partake in communion, thinks Mike's a better name. With a smile and a gentle firmness, Nadia rejects Mike. “That’s no name for a dog,” she tells him. Rocco it will be, maybe a sly hint that she will foster his better impulses.
Cousin Marv, however, is another matter. In the final onscreen appearance of everyone’s favorite mobster, James Gandolfini brings in a moody undercurrent. He lives in a fussy house with his unmarried sister and visits his comatose father regularly, but Cousin Marv is anything but avuncular in other interactions. We soon find his get rich quick scheme is as dangerous as it is dumb. That his loyalties boomerang back to himself mainly, and his comrades in crime are just so much disposable rubbish.
This isn’t merely a bleak character study, though. Revelations from the past reach up through the murky waters of the present to confound and confront us, but they never feel forced or contrived. Instead they grow out of the nature of the survivors on screen; they surprise but should not shock us, since we have been warned. The clues have always been there, hiding in plain sight.
Take a ride on the wild side, the wrong side of the river in Boston. It is one you won’t easily forget.
Bob’s last name is Saginowski, reminding us that in addition to its Irish, Boston also has a Polish population as well. Our recipe for Polish Potato Pancakes is one I think Bob would enjoy. I can even imagine it being served at Cousin’s Marv’s Bar.
Or maybe Nadia could cook these up for him. I suggest serving them with some sour cream on the side, but notice how you can individualize this recipe according to your own tastes or whatever you might have on hand at home.
Think about adding vegetables or cheese, and even substituting sweet potatoes.
Boston Polish Potato Pancakes
The Perfect Potato Pancake The basic Latke recipe includes simple ingredients: potatoes, onions, eggs, matzo meal or all-purpose flour, salt and oil. However, many chefs make the basic recipe their own by using sweet potatoes or adding additional ingredients, such as vegetables or cheese. Toppings can vary, too. Germans eat their pancakes with applesauce, while the Eastern Europeans of Russia top them with sour cream and caviar.
5 medium potatoes peeled
1 large white onion
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon of salt to taste
Peel and grate potatoes and onion with a large-hole grater.
After grating, place the potatoes in a strainer and squeeze the liquid out as much as possible (Soriano’s tip: Wrap ingredients in a cheese cloth and squeeze liquid out as if ringing a wash cloth).
Place the potato and onion mixture in a large bowl.
Add the eggs, salt and corn starch.
Totally combine and mix all ingredients together.
Heat 1/4 inch of Canola oil in a large skillet.
Use your hands to form the mixture into the desired size and carefully lay them into the hot oil without overcrowding the pan.
Once the edges start to brown, turn the pancakes over with a spatula to cook both sides until golden brown.
Take the pancakes out of the skillet and lay them on a sheet pan screen to let the residual oil drip out (Soriano’s tip: Paper towels do not soak up extra grease, instead the food ends up sitting in its own grease).
Serve the potato latkes as hot as possible.
These can be individually frozen and reheated in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 2 to 3 minutes.