Guillaume Canet starred in a French film titled Les Liens du Sang, a.k.a. Rivals, back in 2008. The film told the story of two brothers, one a pimp and the other a cop, and the issues that ensued as their lives went different ways. Canet must have obviously loved the film a great deal, because he decided to direct its remake with Blood Ties, gathering an impressive cast to do so. Not only does he have a good cast, but he also got filmmaker James Gray (The Yards, We Own the Night, Two Lovers) to co-write the screenplay with him. On paper, this reads like the recipe for a good crime drama. Unfortunately, Blood Ties just doesn’t hit what it aims for.
Blood Ties sees Billy Crudup as cop Frank and Clive Owen as criminal Chris. We’re in the 70s, and if the clothes and cars don’t convince you, the relentlessly obvious soundtrack surely will. Chris comes out of prison to a dying father and a cop brother, for whom he holds deep resentment. It’s obvious from the get-go that Chris is going to struggle to stay straight, even when he falls for Mila Kunis’ Natalie. There’s always that struggle for cash and independence, and the fact that the mother of his children (Marion Cotillard) is now asking for back-payment of child support can’t help either. Frank, on the other hand, has issues of his own. Apart from feeling unloved by his father (James Caan), he has fallen for Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), the wife of a criminal he has put away
The plot is decent, with enough moving parts to ensure that there’s always a new issue unfolding at any giving moment. If only someone had told Canet that he had to infuse a level of momentum in these proceedings. The film unfolds in a frustratingly unconfident fashion, almost too scared to grab the plot with gusto and to give the audience any sort of excitement.
We’ve seen this type of story told many times before, and often better than this. There’s no surprise on the road ahead; crime doesn’t pay, boys want to be loved by their fathers, blood is thicker than water–you get the idea. New ideas are hard to come by, that’s all well and good, but it’s the formula in which they’re delivered that can make you forget that what you’re seeing isn’t anything new. Canet’s bland direction is truly unfortunate, lowering a workable plot down to its basic punchlines. Combined with Canet’s lackluster direction, is a screenplay that goes for the obvious at every possibility. Scenes are played out in such a heavy-handed fashion that there’s no room left for subtlety.
All is not lost in Blood Ties, with Canet’s cast managing to bring a much needed level of class to the overall film. Clive Owen and Billy Crudup are actually very good, delivering strong, physical performances that rise above their half-written characters. Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, James Caan, Matthias Schoenaerts and especially Marion Cotillard, are fine in their supporting roles.
By no means a disaster, Blood Ties is just disappointingly mediocre. A cast this good and a plot with this much potential calls for better material. Instead, Blood Ties squanders emotional subtlety for melodramatic dialogue and tension for predictability.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10