Movie Review - Blood Ties

Clive Owen (left) and Billy Crudup (right)
in a scene from "Blood Ties"
First, there was a book called Deux Freres, Flic Et Truand by Michel and Bruno Papet. The novel was about two brothers. One was a cop and the other was a criminal. It was based on the real lives of Michel and Bruno Papet who were brothers at odds. Then, there was a French film called Les Liens Du Sang (2008) starring Guillaume Canet and Fran├žois Cluzet that Jacques Maillot adapted from the Papet brothers' book. Now, there is this American version starring Billy Crudup and Clive Owen as the two brothers that former actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet has remade.

With the assistance of producer and co-writer James Gray, Canet is able to re-create Brooklyn of 1974. Canet and his crew would have us believe we're watching Serpico (1973) or some other New York cop drama of that time. From the clothing to the camerawork, it's all great on the surface.

Unfortunately, Canet can't seem to nail the relationships between any body. I didn't buy a single one. It's not just the actors but Canet's direction. None of the relationships here felt solid or even real, save for one. Key among the relationships that don't feel real is the central one, which is that of the two brothers.

Clive Owen stars as Chris, a man who is released from prison after nine years. He goes to live with his brother Frank, played by Billy Crudup. Frank is a detective with the New York Police Department. Frank tries to help Chris by getting him a job, but Chris' pride and frustration with wanting to be a big shot and provide for his two children push him back into a life of crime.

One might assume that Canet would go the way of Michael Mann's Heat (1995) or Ridley Scott's American Gangster (2007), but Canet's film doesn't quite rise to those levels. The problem is that I never felt the conflict between Chris and Frank. Yes, the two fight during a family dinner and later on, but, despite Frank's insistence that he would never cover for his brother, time and time again he does cover for Chris.

After a point, the movie wants us to continue to feel some kind of tension where none exists. Toward the end, Frank quits the police force, further removing the tension. When Chris goes back to crime, he does so in the most extreme way possible, committing cold and merciless, multiple murders. They take the character too far, which diminishes the other.

So much so, when Frank is put into danger in the movie's final moments, I didn't care. The whole thing felt contrived to give Owen's character Chris a redemptive arc. The reason it feels contrived is because Chris has the opportunity to eliminate the danger to Frank long before the final moments, but he doesn't. The reason he doesn't is for no other purpose than to draw things out, so Canet can do a car chase and a needlessly drawn-out shooting.

Marion Cotillard is an Oscar-winner but her accent here is pretty inconsistent. One second she sounds like she's trying to do a New York / New Jersey tone, and the next second her natural French tone emerges causing her to struggle with basic English. Cotillard plays Monica, the mother of Chris' children. Those children are in one scene but then are never seen or heard again.

Mila Kunis plays Natalie, the new girlfriend of Chris, but she just becomes a waste of time. Chris' relationship with Natalie comes of no consequence. Zoe Saldana plays Vanessa, the girlfriend of Frank whose relationship does come of consequence.

Matthias Schoenaerts as Anthony Scarfo
by far the best thing in "Blood Ties"
Before hooking up with Frank, Vanessa was involved with Anthony Scarfo, played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead and Rust and Bone), a former criminal who is arrested by Frank but is only held for a short sentence because there isn't enough evidence against him. While Anthony is incarcerated, Frank takes the opportunity to be with Vanessa, which highly enrages Anthony.

The scene where Vanessa tries to break up with Anthony, while he's still behind bars, is probably the best scene in the whole movie. It's mostly so because Schoenaerts' performance is so spectacular and power. His brief, few minutes on screen eclipses all the others with the exception of James Caan who plays the father of Chris and Frank.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence, pervasive language, some sexual content and brief drug use.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 7 mins.

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