Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.
Can a bad ending ruin a whole movie? Usually, I’d argue it can’t; even a truly misguided conclusion is just one component of a story, which itself is just one component of a film. (Those who see narrative cinema only as a plot-delivery service may disagree.) But in the case of The Drop, the Dennis Lehane crime drama that opened today, the ending—as in the very last scene, right before the credits—really does sort of compromise the integrity of the whole project. I’ll explain.
Tom Hardy’s character, Bob, spends most of The Drop behaving like a relaxed, unflappable Brooklyn everydude—adopting a cute dog, very gently pursuing Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and deflecting the aggression of the tough customers around him. So calm is the character that even when a menacing thug, Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), begins harassing him and trying to shake him down for money, he barely blinks. Eric has an intimidating reputation; everyone in the neighborhood whispers about a man he supposedly killed in cold blood. And he’s set his sights on Bob, who’s not only dating his ex-girlfriend, Nadia, but has also taken in the pooch he abused and abandoned. So there’s some suspense in the inevitable confrontation between these two figures, the respective lion and the lamb of a tough community.
What Bob knows, however, is that Eric didn’t kill the man he’s said to have killed. Bob knows this because he did the deed himself. Hardy’s protagonist, as it turns out, hides a violent nature beneath his pushover facade. And try as he might to keep it concealed—he even agrees to fork over a couple thousand dollars to get the bully off his case—the hero reaches his breaking point when Eric, in cahoots with Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), attempts to stick up the drop bar where Bob works. Here, in the climax of the movie, Bob reveals his true colors, shooting his enemy dead in front of Nadia. His passivity makes sense in retrospect: We’ve been watching the story of a man resisting the rage inside of him, until he can no longer.
There’s a sting to that revelation, one that bestows a belated power upon the low-key events that happen before it. Rather than swoon over her savior, Nadia is justifiably horrified by his act of violence; she finally sees Bob for who he really is—the true monster she saw in Eric, the real version of the dead, ersatz gangster her ex was pretending to be. When she flees into the night from Bob, we’re meant to see what the man has lost by reverting to his old, primal ways. A closing voice-over digs the knife in: The violence of this neighborhood has revived the violence in Bob’s heart—and like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, he is alienated by his inevitable regression.
And then the final scene arrives: Bob goes to see Nadia at her home, and almost immediately talks her into forgiving his savagery and returning to him. Nadia, having seemingly broken her pattern of violent relationships by walking away, falls back into the company of another brute. And Bob, mere moments after vocalizing the solitude his wrath has wrought, finds a speedy, last-minute redemption. It’s such an insultingly happy coda that all the film’s hard work seems to evaporate in a cloud of crowd-pleasing compromise. My guess is that this ending was inserted at the behest of the suits fronting the bill or to appease bummed-out test audiences. Dennis Lehane may have trouble sticking landings, but it’s still hard to believe that the guy who penned the severe downer conclusions of Mystic River and Shutter Island came up with this upbeat final beat. Audiences at the Toronto Gala screening I attended ate it up, however—just as they applauded when Bob shot Eric dead, then chillingly rationalized his bloodshed. So maybe I’m alone in my objection. Anyone else feel the same?