Movie Review: “Blood Ties”

Image“Blood Ties” is a cop-crooks thriller based on a French film, “Les liens du sang.” It’s a period piece set in 1974, when the lapels were wide, the cars were wider and pay phones were the cell phones of the day.
But thanks to its story — a lovesick cop (Billy Crudup) lives in awe of and beholden to his ex-con older brother (Clive Owen), it feels much older. It may not be the oldest story in the crime picture book, but it’s only a chapter or two away from it.
Frank is “the good brother,” but that’s a relative term. He pines for his ex girlfriend, Vanessa (Zoe Saldana). And when cops in the movies pine, they stalk.
“Oh, can you be seen with a colored girl now?” she snaps when she confronts Frank.
Chris (Owen) is just out of the joint, a career criminal whose earliest run-in with the law he still holds over Frank. Lili Taylor plays their sister, James Caan their sickly, dying old man, the guy who supposedly loves them all equally.
Chris left behind a junky/hooker (Marion Cotillard) when he went to prison, and their two kids. He wants to go straight, if only to see the kids and maybe rescue them from the lives he and their mother have sentenced them to.
Mila Kunis is Natalie, a cashier in the New York car lot/garage where Chris finds work. She is temptation incarnate, and tempted herself. If only she can trust him. Of course, she can’t.
Chris falls in with his colorful old crowd. Frank starts getting pressure from the higher ups (Noah Emmerich) in the police department.
“Your brother has a very LOUD reputation.”
Director co-writer Guillaume Canet, better known as a French actor, doesn’t do a particularly good job of hiding the novelty here. We’re meant to misjudge each character and have our opinions flipped. But Crudup’s Frank is obviously less “good” than we first think, and Owen’s Chris seems redeemable only until the first time he shoots somebody, which doesn’t take long.
Among the cast, the Oscar winner Cotillard acquits herself the best, bleary-eyed and bitter, a woman who knows just what to expect from Chris, no matter what appearances suggest. And the contempt is mutual.
“You’re trash to the core.”
Owen does well in a sort of Jason Statham hardcase role, but Crudup seems a little lost, playing a cowardly, lovesick cop still cunning enough cop to get the girl he wants by hook or by crook. The film refuses to judge him, but the viewer doesn’t have that problem. Kunis tries on a Brooklyn accent — for a couple of scenes, anyway.
You only notice those sorts of things in the first two acts, because the third act — with a high body count, a cascade of pitiless crimes, vast intervals of time and plot holes you could drive a ’72 El Dorado through — is simply risible.
Perhaps this played better in French. Subtitles, at least, tend to distract you from a story that was drawing a pension back when Bogart and Cagney were chewing up the silver screen.
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MPAA Rating: R for violence, pervasive language, some sexual content and brief drug use
Cast: Zoe Saldana, Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis, James Caan
Credits: Directed by Guillaume Canet, scripted by Guillaume Canet and James Gray, based on the French film “Les liens du sang.” A Roadside Attractions release.
Running time: 2:08

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