VOD film review: Blood Ties
James R | On 17, Aug 2014
Director: Guillaume Canet
Cast: Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Zoe Saldana, Mila Kunis, Billy Crudup, James Caan
Watch Blood Ties online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV
Would you rather see a film starring Clive Owen or Marion Cotillard? Zoe Saldana or Matthias Schoenaerts? Mila Kunis or James Caan? Lili Taylor or Billy Crudup? Or, if you had the choice, would you rather see a film with all of them?
Blood Ties is the kind of movie that picks the latter.
A remake of Les Liens Dy Sang, which starred Guillaume Canet, Blood Ties sees its former lead step behind the camera to direct. It’s a role Guillaume has proven himself more than capable of doing, with 2006’s Tell No One particularly standing out for its taught, well-wrought tension. While that was an admirably old-fashioned thriller, Blood Ties is old-fashioned in a different sense: Ne Le Dis à Personn recalled Hitchcock with a light, suspenseful touch. Blood Ties echoes Scorsese with a heavy air.
From the opening scene, with its faded yellow couch and overtly hairy men, the 1970s setting is spelled out loud and clear – perhaps a little too loudly and clearly. The soundtrack (full of cool, retro tunes), the suits and the long sideburns almost make you think of Anchorman rather than Goodfellas. That is, if it wasn’t for the cast.
Into the dingy Brooklyn streets swaggers Chris (Owen), just out of prison for murder and crashing on the couch of his brother, loyal cop Frank (Crudup). Chris soon hooks up with his old flame, Monica (Cotillard), who’s also got experience in sleeping on other people’s couches… professionally. Frank soon gets Chris work for a local car dealer, where Chris meets young secretary Natalie (Kunis) – and continues to meet her on a regular basis. Often in the bedroom. Meanwhile, Chris is trying to woo his old lover, Vanessa (Saldana), after locking up her trying-to-go-straight bloke, Scarfo (Schoenaerts), all the while handling his dying father, played by James Caan.
It’s the kind of plot synopsis you dream of reading, but it’s also a long one. And that’s Blood Tie’s principal problem: there were 2.6 million people in Brooklyn in the 1970s and Canet tries to fit them all in. The cast bring depth to the showy surface of period New York, a soft-edged substance to back up their brash vocals, but we are never given enough time to explore it.
Clive Owen has enough presence to pull off the violent intensity of his un-reformed villain, while Crudup balances brotherly loyalty and romantic obsession as well as he does his bristling moustache. The best moments occur when they clash, often saying nothing; a steely gaze from out of a ski mask, or a smiling farewell on a train platform. The script, co-written with James Gray, contrives conflict with a mature subtlety. One stand-out scene sees Thanksgiving escalate out of control in front of James Caan’s ageing invalid, exposing the influence – and vulnerability – of male authority.
But while the familial drama alone could make up a whole feature, Blood Ties also asks us to care about Mila Kunis’ fledgling relationship with Chris – and his slide back into the routines of Marion Cotillard’s profession. Zoe Saldana is equally believable as Frank’s pursuee, but all three feel like subplots from another film, a problem exacerbated by the varying quality of their accents. Canet shoots it all with suitable flair, whipped along by the music, but the two-hour-plus runtime is either in need of a trim or an extra thirty minutes to do justice to the narrative’s scope. The tapestry looks good, and the performers hold it together, but the fabric is stretched a little thin.
Would you rather see a film starring Clive Owen or Marion Cotillard? Zoe Saldana or Matthias Schoenaerts? Mila Kunis or James Caan? Lili Taylor or Billy Crudup? Or would you rather see a film with all of them? If you pick the latter, the familiar, flawed vibes of Blood Ties is for you.