film review – Blood Ties

Blood Ties wears its inspirations on it sleeve. It’s a film that tries very hard to be like some of the best crime films from the ’70s (like 1973’s Serpico) or at least resemble those movies which were made years later, took place in the ’70s and tried their best to evoke the flavor of that decade’s cinema (like 1993’s Carlito’s Way). Blood Ties itself takes place in 1974 New York City and is about two brothers. One’s a cop, another a man who just got out of jail and is immediately tempted to go astray once again, which leads to a strenuous family bond. Will they choose each other or do what their immediate environment demands of them, is the question the film revolves around. Both brothers themselves, the older criminal one played by Clive Owen and the younger decent one by Billy Crudup, take a long time to figure out the answer, but chances are you’ll have your suspicions from the start. And that you’re probably right.

Blood Ties, a remake of the French adaptation of the French Bruno and Michel Patet book Les Liens Du Sang, is an entirely unoriginal and forgettable movie, slightly elevated by a stellar cast that does an amazing job with the predictable material. It’s a film that lacks its own identity; it’s very succesful at emulating the style of the ’70s crime flicks its makers have a lot of fondness for, but the movie itself has very little to say or add to the sources it’s tapping from. Instead Blood Ties is a grainy genre picture that is overlong and gets tedious early on, because it tells a stale tale of bland and underwritten versions of crime genre characters, once again making it abundantly clear that the movie tries to be a love letter to the kind of fiction it adores. Its problem is that the film makes you want to pop in the movies it harkens back to, instead of finishing Blood Ties, a film that’s dull, formulaic and uninspired in comparison. Blood Ties captures the look and feel of the ’70s era cops and robbers movies, but it doesn’t capture the fun and thrills.

What makes Blood Ties watchable at first is its cast. Billy Crudup’s portrayal of the younger brother is especially noteworthy: his turn is subdued, quiet, timid even. Crudup draws you in with the silent sweetness and fragility of a man torn between his dedication to the law and his sense of family values, and sometimes it’s heartwrenching to watch. Clive Owen does well too with the part he’s been given, but it’s a role we’ve come to expect from him: the brute with a bit of heart and a bit of a violent streak. No, apart from Crudup, the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is the one to watch here: the screen sizzles every time he sets foot on it because he radiates anger, confusion and even vulnerability at times as a man put in a difficult position by his own decisions and the decisions of others. After Belgian movie Rundskop (Bullhead) and the French Le Rouille Et D’Os (Rust And Bone), Schoenaerts once again demonstrates that he’s a fine addition to any film, an actor who deserves to be a household name and hopefully will be in the near future. Unfortunately the quality of the acting can’t make up for the film’s lack of plot and interesting characters, and, in this case, it’s safe to say this cast deserved a far better movie to be part of.

Blood Ties is dull, formulaic and unoriginal. Even top-notch acting can’t make this drag fun to sit through. 4/10

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