I’d warn you about a “spoiler alert,” but this much is obvious maybe ten minutes into “Brothers by Blood.” It’s been recut, chopped. It even had a different title at one point, the much more poetic “The Sound of Philadelphia,” taken from a soul hit of the ’70s.
The movie in its release form has a pretty good cast, a gritty feel, a strained tale of a psychopathic gang leader careening toward a fall and the appalled cousin along for the ride, with a mismatched love story shoehorned in because that’s the law.
It makes a little sense. But not nearly enough.
Matthias Schoenaerts is Peter, the seemingly sane one who grew up in the family business, raised as a “brother” to his cousin Michael (Joel Kinnaman). Now they’re adults and Peter’s second in command of this small, long-established Philly Irish gang run by Michael, who rules by whim.
He’s delusional, thinking he’s a judge of racehorses (he buys one), a Trump backer because “He’s a billionaire,” and a guy who won’t shy away from a “war” with the Italians.
“They want what we got,” he reasons. So what if they’re a much bigger gang, and the “deal” they’ve had goes back decades, back to when Peter’s dad (Ryan Phillippe) and Michael’s dad (Felix Scott) were running things? Michael’s not sweating details, odds, ethics or self-control.
He hears about a promising boxer, he wants to “own” him. His racehorse gets hurt, he wants to shoot it. Their childhood pal Jimmy (Paul Schneider) needs a loan to keep his restaurant going, he gets the money — and a murderous partner.
Peter spends the whole movie trying to talk Michael out of lashing out, threatening “I’m OUT — I’m going to Hawaii,” and flashing back to the traumas of childhood when Peter lost everyone in his family, one by one.
Maika Monroe is Jimmy’s sister, back in town to bartend for him, somebody Peter has history with. Yes, Monroe’s a lot younger than Schoenaerts.
This may have held together, had a story that built towards its inevitable conclusion less abruptly and haphazardly, when the film was longer. Jérémie Guez, who adapted a Peter Dexter novel, scripted Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “The Bouncer” and had a hand in the hostage thriller “15 Minutes of War.”
But in its current form, “Brothers by Blood” lurches along in fits and starts — a little Kinnaman psychosis, a lot of Schoenaerts brooding, some manic Paul Schneider patter, a half-hearted Monroe moment or two, and a lot of flashbacks. Some of them have to do with roofing, roofs and jumping off of them.
There’s no suspense, no flow to the story, little pathos in the flashbacks and a lot of dead spots where the story stops cold. I like everybody on the screen here, just not in this movie — not in this cut of it anyway.
MPA Rating: R for pervasive language, some violence, sexual references and brief drug use
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Joel Kinnaman, Maika Monroe, Ryan Phillippe, Paul Schneider.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Jérémie Guez, based on a novel by Peter Dexter. script by A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:30