Sometimes a great movie line has the impact of a slap in the face. That’s the case with a moment in “The Drop,” the new crime flick starring James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy.
Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a Brooklyn bartender who is a lot sharper and more ruthless than the low-keyed dimwit he appears to be. The only person who seems to really “get” him is Detective John Torres (John Ortiz), who, after the psychotic ex-boyfriend of Saginowski’s girlfriend has disappeared, is convinced the bartender has murdered the man, but he can’t prove it. So in a scene set in the bar towards the end of the film, the detective sidles up to Saginowski and with his mouth practically in the man’s ear, says with a touch of “I know you know I know”: “They never see you coming, do they, Bob?”
It’s one of those lines that comes out of nowhere, makes you go “wow,” and is so indelible, it will probably define “The Drop” for all time. It’s a “make my day” or “you talkin’ to me?” moment.
“It’s a great summation line, it says what the movie is driving for the whole time,” says Dennis Lehane, who wrote the screenplay. “It’s the movie in a nutshell. And when Torres says that, he’s speaking for the audience as well, because they don’t see Bob coming.”
But don’t go by me, because I’m not the only one blown away by the line’s impact. The comment has already been mentioned in on Twitter, picked as one of the top quotes in the film by readers of Rotten Tomatoes, and referenced in movie blogs like Hollywood-elsewhere.com and free-times.com.
Will it become one of those iconic lines of dialogue that people remember for years to come? It’s too soon to tell. But it’s got the chops.
“Most iconic lines make us think, ‘Gee, I wish I said that,’” says Susan Wloszczyna, a film critic who contributes to rogerebert.com and Indiewire. “Real people rarely have the right turn of phrase to sum up a situation or a person on the tip of their tongues. But the best dialogue usually reveals something about a character’s personality, summarizes the theme of the film and carries an emotional subtext that just feels right.”
That’s certainly the case with the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best movie quotes of all time, chosen by a panel of 1,500 industry insiders. Topped by “Gone With the Wind’s” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” it includes such memorable gems as “May the Force be with you,” “Show me the money!” “I see dead people” and, of course, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Did the screenwriters know they were dancing with immortality when they wrote these lines? Hard to say, but as it turns out, Lehane, the author of “Gone Baby Gone,” “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island,” all of which have been turned into films, had an inkling his line was something special. And the fact the line was moved from a scene in the middle of the film to one at the end only served to heighten its impact. “I knew when I wrote the line there was a thrill to it,” Lehane told the Daily Beast, “and we knew in the screenings, you could feel the audience, that it hit their blood. And in one of the screenings people did clap [after hearing it].”
“I recognized how rich the line was,” adds John Ortiz, “but I had no idea it was going to resonate the way it does with audiences. Like many great lines, it’s multi-layered, and it can mean so much in so many different ways to different people. It just kind of fell into the place it fell into, in a real organic way.”
And just like all the classic movie lines, “They never see you coming, do they, Bob?” works for a very particular reason. “Great lines don’t exist without context,” says Lehane. “Very few of these lines stand on their own. ‘You talkin’ to me,’ if you said that pre-‘Taxi Driver, ’ it’s nothing special. It becomes iconic because of the richness of the entire film experience.”
“I think what allows it to be iconic is when you have an emotional ride as an audience, you’re tense for an hour and a half, it’s a release, whether it’s emotional, physical or psychological, or an ‘ah ha!’ moment,” adds Ortiz “It’s a result of all that release of tension. And sometimes it doesn’t have to be that dramatic, it’s just a little opening, but it allows the experience of the film to enter you, and you take that home, and never let go of it. You keep saying that line, you love that line. I think that’s what makes it iconic.”