Director: Guillaume Canet
Cast: Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Zoe Saldana, Mila Kunis, Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Lili Taylor and James Caan
Plot: Frank (Crudup) is a troubled police officer who begins to suffer an identity crisis when his ex-con brother (Owen) is released from prison and comes to stay with him.
I saw Blood Ties floating around the new release segment of iTunes not long ago and remember being pretty confused. It boasted a pretty stellar cast with Clive Owen, James Caan and Mila Kunis, not to mention one of my favourite actresses, Marion Cotillard, yet I had never heard of it before. It wasn’t until Netflix grabbed hold of the film that I decided to sit down and watch it.
The film revolves around two brothers in 1974, one of them, Chris, a career criminal and the younger, Frank, plays a rising star in the police force. Chris goes about trying to hold down a legal job to impress his family, and for a small amount of time, he succeeds. He gets a loyal girlfriend, Mila Kunis’s Natalie, and begins to look to the future with a friend who wants to go into the café business with him. However, soon things begin to fall apart. He cannot get a business loan because of his past, his girlfriend is broke and he hates not being able to provide for her, and no one can get over the fact he was a criminal. Soon, a few easy jobs are thrown his way and Chris finds the old life of crime far too tempting to turn down. Meanwhile, things aren’t easy for Frank. As well as the possibility his brother is going back into the criminal business, a case he is on is breaking him down. Upon arresting a dangerous criminal, Frank realises that the criminal is married to his ex-girlfriend, Vanessa, who he selfishly dumped because she was black and it was stopping him from rising up the police force. He begins to fall for her again, which becomes a problem, when there is little evidence that can keep the criminal husband out of jail. Throw in Marion Cotillard’s cocaine-addicted prostitute and a father figure with a short temper and a heart condition, and Blood Ties promises these various storylines to collide in a very serious and explosive way.
The first thing to note about Blood Ties is that an impressive cast does not necessarily guarantee an impressive movie. It isn’t as though the cast do a bad job. Clive Owen is rarely this good, conjuring up that bad boy image that got him to where he is and using it to play the anti-hero at the centre of this story. His character has a range of emotions to express, sometimes fixed with a poker face that makes the character so unpredictable and mysterious, while at times, he wears his heart on his sleeve. It is breaking his heart that he needs to carry out this life of crime to get by, but he is destroying his fragile relationship with his brother. Mila Kunis and Marion Cotillard don’t do anything wrong, yet their talents are wasted on bit parts. Mila Kunis could have been any actress and the result would have been the same – Chris’s girlfriend who suspects something is going on, but is too scared to dig too deep. It is to Mila Kunis’s credit that she stops the character from becoming too meaningless, even if the script is clearly not on her side. Marion Cotillard’s character veers from interesting to bland. She is Chris’s ex-girlfriend, who also used to work as a prostitute for him. She is addicted to cocaine, although that plotline only crops up, when it is needed for the story. She is kept on the side-lines for the middle act of the movie, so her character doesn’t make too much of an impression, which is a shame, because she is probably the best actor here. Zoe Saldana is the one who impressed me the most, however. Her character suffers from being a part of the subplot, rather than the main story. There are massive amounts of time, where she is just as trapped in the background as Mila Kunis. However, she gets her moments to shine, especially when her character snaps, crumbling under the weight of being fought over by a dangerous criminal and a cop. This movie might not have done too much for me, but it did make me see Saldana in a new light. Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Trek told me that Saldana had screen presence; Blood Ties told me that she could be a force to be reckoned with, when called upon.
So, the characters were hit-and-miss. The problem was that the movie’s structure was a little off. The brothers were clearly the focus of Blood Ties, which means that if the supporting cast fail to make an impression, it shouldn’t harm the overall power of the film. However, for a lot of the time, the movie is hoping the brothers are enough to hold the screen. The first half of the movie doesn’t really have a story; it just wallows in the misery of the moment, glued together by a 70s soundtrack. The performances are there to make it bearable, but it just doesn’t compel the audience to watch on. Chris’s crime spree doesn’t actually start until much later on. If it was moved a few scenes earlier, Blood Ties might have had that sense of direction it lacks in the opening hour. The final half an hour sees Chris start using his profits to build a chain of whorehouses, run by Marion Cotillard’s character. This was interesting, and it also began to unlock Marion Cotillard’s performance. However, it just happens too late in the day. There is no time to see Chris and Cotillard in action, because it is time to wrap up the film. Cotillard squeezes her entire character arc into ten minutes and Chris’s up-and-coming criminal story is reduced to fifteen minutes to fame, before it begins crumbling around him. The ending is poignant enough for approval, but when you have a cast this good and the beginnings of an intriguing gangster story, you expect a lot better.
Final Verdict: Blood Ties suffers because its priorities are in the wrong place. If the first act was snappier and the third act started earlier, we might have had a pretty gripping crime thriller. Alas, we are left with a mildly entertaining, by-the-numbers movie.