There must be a template in a screenwriting textbook, or a “Thriller Writing for Dummies” edition that has to “protagonist finds a BUTTLOAD of cash” scenario that every lazy hack under the midnight sun can use as guideline.
Because heaven knows, we see that story line a lot. I guess if aspiring screenwriters can say “Hey, the legendary Cormac McCarthy got away with it (“No Country for Old Men”), Why not me?”
So whatever kudos are due screen veteran Tom Berenger, who turns 71 at the end of May, for stumbling around in the snows of Maine, hunting and getting hunted, the thriller “Blood and Money” hangs on utter hackwork as a screenplay.
Maybe it started with “Platoon,” but more likely with 1993’s “Sniper.” Casting people, especially for B-movies, have no trouble seeing Berenger behind a rifle scope. So even if the eyes squint with age and the movements have a gingerly hint of care about them, here he is, another retired “Marine,” Jim Reed, a loner out to “get my buck” in the not-quite-tractless wilderness up near the Canadian border.
We pick up from Jim’s “custom job” camper that he’s living lean, with photos that hint that he had a family at one time. As a hunter, he’s not the most particular shooter. He kills a doe, but can navigate around that by calling an old acquaintance who knows somebody with “a doe stamp” and “could use the meat.”
We see him in AA, hear the hard luck stories of the men therein, one of whom admits he takes out things on his wife and family.
And when he overhears the waitress (Kristen Hager) hashing out her problems on the phone out back, he has sympathy. “My daughter was just LIKE you.” Emphasis on “WAS.”
Jim jaws a little with the various state game wardens, with clerks in stores, many of whom are talking about the “casino robbery” and shootout that happened nearby (this was filmed around Oxford, Maine). Jim barely engages with this.
But back out in the remote snow and trees, missing his shot at a buck has him careless enough to take a second shot at the first sign of movement. Damned if he doesn’t kill one of the robbers, a woman he watches bleed out, bellowing complaints “What are you DOING here?” at her as she does.
What’s Jim do? He high-tails it. It’s only when he thinks back later about clues he might have left at the crime scene that he goes back. And that’s when he takes the big black duffel stuffed with money.
The remainder of “Blood and Money,” which was first titled “Allagash” (the region where this is set), is even more perfunctory — facing off with the rest of the gang, picking them off, getting an innocent bystander killed, seeking some sort of dubious “redemption” in the process.
As trite as the screenplay’s bones are, they’re nothing to the dubious moralism or “code” or what have you writer-director John Barr tries to shove in here. Jim’s present is not unlike his past. He’s done a terrible wrong, and he’s not accepting responsibility for it. His actions and reactions are quite human — careless, coverup, then kill or be killed and don’t sweat the collateral damage.
The story’s over-familiarity isn’t the best reason to skip “Blood and Money.” Its messaging is. And whatever butch points Berenger earns for getting the job done in extreme conditions at an age when “don’t slip you’ll break your hip” has to be a concern are squandered on a film that isn’t worth it.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Tom Berenger, Kristen Hager, Paul-Ben Victor, Jimmy LeBlanc
Credits: Directed by John Barr, screenplay by John Barr, Alan Petherick. A Screen Media release.
Running time: 1:30