Guillaume Canet’s Blood Ties should have been a real winner. Set in ‘70s New York, Canet goes for that Sidney Lumet vibe – a tough-talking cop drama with a great cast lead by Billy Crudup, Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana and James Caan. Lumet would have let the gushing blood and tears swill into New York’s East River, however Canet doesn’t have a handle on the story and nearly everything about this comes across as flimsy and watered down.
Crudup plays Frank, an upstanding cop, who takes his older ex-con brother Chris (Owen) under his wing so that he can get his life back in order. However, Chris is tempted back to a life of crime by the lure of money (going straight doesn’t pay half as well as being a criminal). Their ‘professional’ and personal lives intertwine as questions about love, honour and family all come into play.
Blood Ties isn’t bad, it’s just monumentally frustrating. This could have been a film of real depth, but the script lacks drive and conviction. The bare bones are there on which to hang a great story about loyalty but this doesn’t have enough behind it to make the character motivations feel real. This is very noticeable when you stack it up against films that actually came from the ‘70s. Those films were tense and tricky, whereas this is too simplistic. Canet’s film may have the decade’s aesthetic down pat, but it doesn’t have its cinematic honesty.
Co-writer and executive producer James Gray’s career has been built on dramas which show the divide between family loyalty and those of friendship. However, this film (which is based on a French film based on a novel) skims over the surface. There was either too much plot excised to fit into a contractual length or not enough to extend to a two hour running time. The film looks great and the soundtrack is impressive, but Canet uses these a crutch and they simply can’t support the weight of film.
As a European-US co-production, Blood Ties needed to have a mixed cast from America and Europe, and this leads to one of the film’s chief failings – casting. On paper the casting in Blood Ties sounds great, however it’s all wrong. Clive Owen is a little too old now (and using too much hair dye) to play this sort of character. The English actor barely has a grasp on his Brooklyn accent, slipping in and out of it at any given moment. However, he’s much better than Cotillard, whose native French tones hangs on every word she says. Cotillard may be an oscar-winning actress, but mastering the intonations of a native new Yorker are just too much for her. You can essentially see her spitting out the ‘Noo Yak’ dialect.
The saving grace of Canet’s film is Billy Crudup, an actor who once again shows that great talent doesn’t always lead to huge success in Hollywood. Crudup anchors Blood Ties with a sincerity that is faultless. He brings pain and humanity to his role of the cop caught between duty and family loyalty. Normally I’d call this a star-making turn, but the Hollywood star-makers are apparently blind to Crudup’s skills. This thriller may be a light-weight, but Crudup’s performance makes it essential. Few actors could do so much with so little.
A good looking, but lightweight crime drama, Blood Ties should have been great. Sadly, it lacks a script with the necessary intricacies to make it stand-out from the multitude of other films in the genre. However, the film is worth catching for Billy Crudup’s powerful performance.
A 25 minute production featurette which is pretty insightful. Like the film, it’s good, but it needed a little more to be great.