It’s ‘70s Noo Yawk, a time of sideburns, ill-advised moustaches, big collars and wah-wah guitar funk. Tough, charismatic, career criminal Chris (Clive Owen) is paroled from prison and into the care of his reluctant younger brother, Frank (Billy Crudup), a cop on the rise.

There’s bad blood between the brothers, Chris has always been the favourite child of their father Leon (James Caan) and Chris still resents Frank’s part in the youthful indiscretion that started Chris on his life of crime, but despite their troubles, Frank takes Chris in, putting him up in his apartment, finding him a job, helping him reconnect with the family he lost when he went to prison.

But Chris finds it hard to settle, to adjust. The straight life of an ordinary working stiff isn’t for him and he drifts back into a life of crime, forcing the brothers onto a collision course that will rip the family apart…

A remake of the French crime drama Rivals, which starred director Guillaume Canet as the cop sibling, watching Blood Ties feels a little like rediscovering a half-remembered ‘70s urban crime drama, a lesser Lumet or Siegel or Friedkin, or a movie like The Seven-Ups or The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, on TV too late on a school night and getting sucked in despite being too tired to really concentrate on what you’re watching. You keep dozing off and jerking awake, unable to tell if you’ve missed something important but you’re reluctant to go to bed until you see how it all turns out.

Which isn’t to say Blood Ties is a bad film; it’s not. Owen is magnetic in the overly familiar role of the aging hood whose refusal to kowtow to the Man scuppers his chances of leading a straight life (more Dustin Hoffman in Straight Time than Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way) and his Chris is self-aware enough to know it while Crudup is twitchy and nervy as the insecure younger brother torn between love, disgust and a certain amount of hero worship of his more glamorous sibling. Refreshingly neither character is particularly likeable; Owen’s Chris is an amoral and selfish thug, pulling the trigger on innocent bystanders with barely a second thought and building a vice empire by pimping his junkie ex-wife (Marion Cotillard) and turning her into a brothel madame. Upstanding honest cop Crudup meanwhile is a creepy stalker, obsessed with the ex-girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) he broke it off with due to her race, even going so far as to ensure her current beau, an armed robber (Matthias Schoenaerts), enjoys a stay in the Big House on very questionable evidence just so Frank can win her back.

And Crudup and Owen are ably supported by a fantastic cast who don’t get too much to do. Saldana makes the most of a role that’s not dissimilar to her role in last year’s Out Of The Furnace, Marion Cotillard is incongruously nutty and, well, French, as the mum-turned-streetwalker (though it’s probably difficult for Mr Canet to keep the missus in check when she decides to start chewing the scenery) and Mila Kunis is good as the blue collar goddess Owen hooks up with, their first love scene sweet, tender and intimate despite them only listening to a record. As the boys’ sister Lili Taylor is as reliable as ever (though might have been more satisfyingly cast as the flaky junkie whore wife) and James Caan is poignant as the family patriarch; a lion of a man reduced to a shadow of his former self by illness and age. Perhaps the film’s biggest disappointment lies with Flemish actor Matthias Schoenaerts; there’s just not enough of him, his scenes perfunctory, called upon to be first a patsy then a threat, almost as if in the last ten minutes of the film, Canet remembered he was making a crime drama.

And there lies Blood Ties biggest problem; it’s schizophrenic and wildly episodic, as if edited by a bonobo with a razor blade. Scenes of gritty, pulse-pounding action sit uneasily alongside the talky family drama as if the film is unsure whether it wants to be a sprawling, epic crime thriller or something more intimate, a problem not helped by some odd narrative jumps that feel like the result of injudicious pruning (Waitaminute! Who’s this guy? When did they plan this robbery? Who are those guys? What just happened? Was he even sick? When did he get out of prison?) but could just as easily be down to Canet’s Gallic sensibilities and James Gray’s script is downbeat and clunky to the point of parody at times, almost like the Wayans brothers decided to remake Mean Streets. It also feels a little too close at times to Gray’s previous dour excursions into ‘70s-inspired crime flicks (We Own The Night, The Yards, Little Odessa). C’mon James, lighten up, CRIME IS FUN until you get caught!

But when it works, Blood Ties is a gritty, grimy ‘70s throwback of sibling rivalry and redemption with Owen and Crudup on top of their game. It’s just a shame that they and the immensely talented cast didn’t have a better script.

DVD Review: Blood Ties
Sibling rivalry takes centre stage in this gritty, grimy 70s throwback
3.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

About The Author