Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Director: Guillaume Canet
Stars: Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts, James Caan, Lili Taylor, Noah Emmerich
Running time: 127 minutes
Blood Ties, a remake of the 2008 French film Les Liens du Sang (Rivals), is cut from multiple worn-out clothes. It's a wannabe old-school Sidney Lumet crime flick, a lethargic mishmash of the brother-against-brother scenario explored more successfully in We Own the Night (2007) and Pride and Glory (2008), and an exercise in '70s pulp fiction that's more concerned with jamming that decade's most recognizable pop songs into people's ears than it is developing any sympathetic characters.
You've been here and watched it before, though none of director Guillaume Canet's superior forbearers can take credit for making classy Oscar nominee Marion Cotillard play a reprehensible druggie/pimp or having a miscast Mila Kunis talk in an at times hilariously put-on Brooklyn accent. As Kunis' character would put it, Blood Ties is a laughing "mattah" for all the wrong reasons.
Which is all the more sad when you look at the film's cast. In addition to Cotillard and Kunis, Blood Ties stars the once-great Clive Owen, the underrated Jason Patric, Lili Taylor, Zoe Saldana, James Caan, and dynamite Bullhead star/brute Matthias Schoenarts. That's a dream cast for any filmmaker—it's just a shame that they joined forces for Canet, who also co-wrote the script with James Gray, who, considering that he penned and directed We Own the Night, should have known better.
Further drifting away from the A-grade actor who anchored winning films like Spike Lee's Inside Man (2006) and Alfonso Cuarón's remarkable Children of Men (2006), Owen stumbles around as Frank, an ex-con looking to reestablish himself in 1974 Brooklyn, where his younger brother, Chris (Patric), is an accolade-studded cop. Frank was locked up for a decade, the result of a revenge killing, and his current situation's rather dire—his ex-wife, Monica (Cotillard), can't stay away from cocaine and his attempts to start legal businesses won't get approved by the state, because, you know, he's a dirty criminal. Concurrently, Chris isn't doing much better—he's back together with an old flame (Saldana) after putting her also-ex-con new baby daddy, Scarfo (Schoenarts), behind bars, and now that Scarfo's out of jail, he's out for Chris' blood.
Expectedly, Frank's descent back into crime slams directly into Chris' professional world, and, once the plot picks up, Blood Ties turns into a series of brotherly double-crosses, followed by brotherly make-ups. And in a leaner, more focused film, the many payoffs might have been poignant, but nothing in Blood Ties thrills or endears. Strangely enough, in an overlong film that unmercifully plods beyond the two-hour mark, there's nary a single character worth giving a shit about. Despite Owen's best efforts to play a Bucktown tough guy, his Frank is too detestable to ever earn any points from viewers, while Patric's admirable attempt to bring pathos to Ganet's production are far too often undermined by his character's idiotic decisions.
Since neither Owen's Frank nor Patric's Chris garner any empathy, the film's central conflict is ultimately mute—it's dismissible way before the logistically absurd resolution (set in Grand Central Station and displaying some of the slowest running cops imaginable) gets underway. Rather than caring about either guy's well-being, you'll be left wishing Kunis would show up again and yell, "Don't hurt them, you damn coppahs!" At least that'd be entertainingly bad, instead of downright inert.