Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Set in New York City circa 1974, brothers Chris and Frank have chosen opposing paths in life. While Frank is a dedicated NYC police officer with a bright future, Chris is an ex-con hood who has just been released from prison after being sent away for murder. Guilt-ridden about their markedly strained relationship, Frank allows Chris to live with him and helps track down a job to appease his probationary requirements. Unfortunately, Chris finds it increasingly difficult to stay straight, as the quick dollar pull of his past life begins to beckon. Slipping deeper and deeper into his old ways, Chris’ insatiable desire for money begins to threaten the once promising future of his brother.
A French actor since the early nineties with over fifty credits on his resume, Guillaume Canet made his directorial debut in 2002 with the French crime comedy, Whatever You Say. Canet’s second directorial effort, Tell No One was a critical darling, officially putting him on the map as a young filmmaker to keep an eye on. Blood Ties, a remake of the Jacques Maillot’s 2008 movie that Guillaume in fact starred in, is Canet’s fourth directorial creation, and his first English language film. Fellow filmmaker James Gray lent his expertise, aiding Canet in the rewriting the original script to help better capture the New York City vernacular.
Academy Award nominee Clive Owen and esteemed performer Billy Crudup were cast to play Chris and Frank. Crudup, who is best known for his epic portrayal of fictitious guitar god Russell Hammond in Almost Famous, has curiously had a lesser career than I expected of an actor with his talents. In Blood Ties, Crudup judiciously captures the strain and pressure his character is under, not only from the turbulent bonds of his marred brotherhood, but also an impassioned on-again, off-again relationship with Vanessa, who is currently married to a hood that Frank has recently put away from illegal weapon’s possession. Zoe Saldana brings a hopeful tenderness to her portrayal of Vanessa, and offers the film’s most passionate outpouring during a particularly heated argument with Frank about their relationship. The film’s most accomplished performance comes from Canet’s long-time girlfriend and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard, whose lascivious depiction of Monica, a rundown working girl and ex-wife to Owen’s Chris, is a gripping and impressively painful portrait that far exceeded her impassive efforts in The Immigrant, her previous film coincidentally directed by James Gray.
Blood Ties is the perfect example of the tumultuous state of affairs the current movie landscape is in. It’s fairly obvious that movie executives have no scruples in releasing and promoting absolute garbage entertainment, and that is their right. But it also makes me question how a relatively standard, by no means awful crime drama with a cast lead by Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, and Billy Crudup and also starring Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, James Caan, and Lily Taylor gets practically ignored by its US distributors Roadside and Lionsgate. This film deserved a better chance at finding a wider audience than it eventually got here in the States.
I wish I could report that Blood Ties is better than merely fair, but Canet doesn’t quite have the proficient grasp or familiarity with his subject matter to fully realize his ambitious aspirations for this project. Harkening back to the 1970s crime drama heyday, Blood Ties frantically starts out with a violent bang and offers a handful of frenetic moments that show just how good this movie could have been. Unfortunately, the movie also suffers from moments of passive doldrums and cliched narrative choices that diminish the film’s overall emotional impact. There’s little denying that Blood Ties is a stereotypical, paradigmatic, opposite sides of the law tale that doesn’t quite reach the greatness of the films its trying to emulate. However, while it lacks the cinematic potency to go beyond the label of run-of-the-mill, the film’s notable, high-profile cast helps make Blood Ties a tense and satisfactory effort.-JL