The Drop (Roskam, 2014) and The Two Faces of January (Amini, 2014)

Had I watched Michael Roskam’s The Drop when it came out last year it certainly would have been on my year-end list. It’s a great adaptation of a Dennis Lehane short story, and a fantastic (and I think superior) follow-up to Bullhead. This Brooklyn-set thriller actually features three leads from different countries, two of whom pull off great east coast accents.

Tom Hardy is Bob Saginowski, quiet, no-nonsense bartender. Matthias Schoenaerts is Eric Deeds, an intimidating local who may or may not have killed a bar regular. Noomi Rapace (the only non-NY accent of the four featured actors) plays Nadia, and James Gandolfini is excellent in his last role as Marv, owner of the bar and cousin to Bob.

The writing in The Drop is spot-on. Lots of good turns and a really incredible monologue from Hardy towards the end. All the performances are great, but Schoenaerts really blew me away. He and Hardy have so many great scenes together and the guy just pulls of some real menace – quieter than in Bullhead but totally threatening.

Maybe it’s because I’m in post, but I’ve had my eye on editing styles a lot lately. I really dug the cutting by Christopher Tellefsen (who’s got a nice filmography including two for Bennett Miller: Capote and Moneyball).

Check out this clip (embedded below, or HERE):

I really love the simple sequence at the beginning – everything preceding the church. The shots slowly lengthen, but only barely. The first three are about 2 seconds each. The following three – the exteriors – are about 6, 5, and 9 respectively. It’s a good rhythm for closing time and the long, snowy walk home, for getting out of the warmth (and warm colors) of the bar and out into the cold (and blue) of the streets.

I also really like the third shot. It would have been so easy to leave out. Go curtains interior to curtains exterior and then just show Bob leaving the bar. We’d get it. But that third shot in this sequence – Bob walking back along the bar – just completes the rhythm and keeps both sections working in threes. It’s the kind of shot any amateur editor would leave out. The same is true of shot five. We’ve already got the street covered. Just get Bob home. We could easily skip that and go right to Bob at his front gate and steps, but again, it’s cut to ease the transition to the church.

That church is also nicely done. The third shot in that bit (around 0:42 – Bob’s POV) is curious. The camera comes off of the priest and finds the object of Bob’s visual interest out of focus at first. It feels like a leftover shot – as though the full thing that was shot isn’t playing out on-screen. That happens a whole lot, so that’s not particularly odd, but it’s a nice way to keep Bob’s attention split between the mass and his surroundings – that makes sense of the character.

There’s some really expressive framing in The Drop, and a color scheme that alternates blue and yellow (Mostly. The climax is soaked in red.):

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There’s also an incredibly cute dog and some framing that nicely foreshadows:

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I loved this punch out at the end of a scene between Eric and Marv. They’re in a deli, but it almost feels like they’re in a prison. That table in the foreground could be a visitor’s table:

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Roskam really likes his sharp foreground with motion in the background that’s soft:

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The Two Faces of January

If The Two Faces of January did anything it made me realize that I need to read some Patricia Highsmith and further solidify my faith in Viggo Mortensen. The man is a great actor and does nothing but help that case in Hossein Amini’s debut feature.

The Two Faces of January is pretty and sophisticated. That is due to Amini’s camera, which doesn’t move too much, but when it does it neatly glides, and also to Marcel Zyskind’s (who’s done some work for Michael Winterbottom) beautiful and classy cinematography.

Like Highsmith’s well-known Ripley series, this film features charlatans, sexual tension, and a middle-class character intruding on an upper class relationship (sounds like Knife in the Water or Funny Games for that matter).

Viggo plays Chester MacFarland – a charmer who is at turns drunk, violent, witty, and debonaire. Amini reserves some of his more traditionally expressive camera movements for Chester, like this simple dolly in towards the end.

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There’s an earlier one that I prefer. Chester watches as his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) and the young multi-lingual American they’ve enlisted to help in a dangerous predicament Rydal (Oscar Isaac) talk at a distance:

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After a series of shots establishing that Rydal and Colette are close, Amini cuts back to Chester, dollying swiftly in on his angry snarl. It’s the combination of camera movement and facial performance that makes this one:

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Here’s a look at a scene towards the end of the first act. The trio is in Crete and on the run. Amini starts the scene in this wide-shot as Chester looks up:

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We get his POV-

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-and then Chester looks down, and again we get his POV to another silent, wary tableau of on-lookers:

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Back to Chester, who walks frame right, leading to a cut revealing Colette in a medium full-shot as Chester crosses frame to lean against the wall:

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Shot reverse follows. We’re over Chester’s shoulder, and then in a single on him. He dominates both frames. She’s small in her medium shot, he looms in hers and his:

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Back to the wide as she storms off, frame left, followed by a cut of her entering a doorway:

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Chester picks up his suitcases to follow, and Amini gets a beat on a white cat watching the scene:

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Ten different shots making up this scene (the single on Chester looking at the people and then walking is repeated, as is the wide). I liked this for a few reasons.

First, it’s a lot of coverage for a fairly simple interaction, but it didn’t feel over-blocked. Chester kind of saunters around and Amini’s shot selection reflects that. Those POV’s that start the scene build suspense, but then they’re basically ignored. That’s Chester in this film: he’s confident even when he shouldn’t be. He sees these people staring at him, and then they don’t matter anymore.

I also really like the third to last shot above – Colette leaving. It’s an added shot, one that doesn’t seem at first necessary. We already get from the fourth-to-last (the wide) that she’s walking away, but the next one emphasizes her having a destination and not just storming off. It gives a specific reason for Chester to follow her (who’s in that doorway?), and it’s nice to see her giving him her back. The cat feels like a lucky moment.

Separately from the coverage, I quite like how yellow this whole thing is. The film is often that tone, but here Chester totally blends in with the walls. Colette’s black dress stands out, but her blond hair and the bits of yellow design amidst the black also fall into the wall tones.

About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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