Blood Ties, the new crime film from writer/director Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) is a well-written drama with uniformly solid performances that doesn’t put a single original idea on the screen during its 127-minute running time. It’s not a bad film. It simply has nothing new to say and suffers from the inevitable comparison to other, better films from this genre.
Chris (Clive Owen) and Frank (Billy Cruddup) are brothers on the wrong side of the law. Chris is being released from prison as Frank is making his way up the ranks of the New York Police Department. With a child support obligation to pay and a dead-end job cleaning up at an auto repair shop, Chris begins to hear the siren song of crime calling his name. Frank makes it clear that he won’t look the other way just because Chris is family, and the audience knows we’re headed toward a showdown between the siblings.
The plot beats are so familiar that an air of predictability enters the proceedings right from the start. Does the family meet Chris at the prison to hug him and welcome him home? Check. Does the mother of Chris’ children hate him and scream at him at the dinner table? Check. Does the patriarch of the family lament that Chris and Frank can’t get along and have a nice quiet dinner as a family? Check. Does Chris improbably meet a beautiful woman who has no real reason to stick by him? Check.
Will Chris accept his menial blue collar employment and shun a life of crime? Will the love of a good woman cause Chris to reform his ways? Do those things ever happen in films like this? No. But, it would be more interesting if they did. Blood Ties doesn’t even have the courage to make Chris a truly bad man. He was in prison for killing the man who raped and murdered his girlfriend. So, add him to the bottomless pile of noble criminals that seem to populate films like this.
The cast is an embarrassment of riches. In addition to the two leads, Marion Cotillard, James Caan, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Noah Emmerich, and some familiar character actors all deliver convincing performances. However, none of them contribute much beyond the obvious plot points they are intended to fulfill. We have the ailing father (Caan) who just wants his sons to peacefully co-exist, and the earnest police lieutenant (Emmerich) who doesn’t want to see Frank throw away his career trying to save his worthless brother. The trio of actresses play the past and present love interests of our leads, and in the case of Cotillard, she hits the Actress-in-a-Crime-Film trifecta of being a mother, an ex-wife and a prostitute.
Blood Ties does provide glimpses of the much better film it could have been. The fights, mob-style assassinations and robberies all have a gritty, realistic feel to them and give the audience an occasional unexpected punch in the gut. A childhood flashback scene feels like a throwaway bonding moment until its true importance is revealed in the final act of the film. There are a few other examples, but they would step over the line into spoiler territory, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
The big city crime saga is a rich vein that has been mined so heavily you better bring something new to the table, something that adds to the canon instead of simply borrowing from it. Blood Ties reminds its audience of the films of Sydney Lumet and Martin Scorsese, two masters at depicting the worlds of New York cops and criminals. Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City, Mean Streets, and Goodfellas are stout standards to measure a film against, and I wondered on more than one occasion why Blood Ties had to be set in the 1970s. It’s a surefire way to draw comparisons to these crime classics, and the period setting doesn’t seem to add anything to the narrative at hand.
This review is probably a bit harsher than Blood Ties deserves. Disappointment is often proportional to potential. There was a significant amount of talent assembled in this production, so I expected greatness, or at the least, something memorable. I can imagine the directions they could have taken the material. Too bad they didn’t.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.