Family tension, gritty 70’s crime sprees, hookers, conflicted cops, jilted convicts, blood in the streets; ‘Blood Ties’ has it all. Now, I say all of this and the first thing you’re going to think is that this movie is one of those tightly wound action flicks that star Bruce Willis and are directed by Michael Bay and yet ‘Blood Ties’ defies it’s genre and it’s material by maintaining a slow burn with a slick cast and a smart director. It never thrusts too much in your face at one time, but pulls back and develops a rich tapestry of characters, themes and plot points over the course of two hours that leave us absorbed in this world.
Guillaume Canet’s crime drama is set in the 70’s and focuses on two brothers on different sides of the law. Frank, the younger brother, grew up straight. He watched his older brother make mistake after mistake and used that as inspiration to right wrongs and stay on the straight and narrow. Because of that, Frank is a cop, while his older brother Chris is a con who was just released from prison. With nowhere to go and an ex-wife who hates him, Chris winds up moving in with Frank, much to the dismay of Frank’s department. Still, Chris seems determined to clean up his act. He gets a good job, reunites with some buddies who have some interesting business ventures lined up and even gets a new flame, Natalie. Still, your past haunts you, and both Frank and Chris wind up realizing the truth of that statement. Frank finds his passions for an ex-flame, Vanessa, to be too much for him to ignore, even if that means putting away her current boyfriend, Scarfo, and Chris finds that he can’t seem to live down his past and soon he decides to embrace it.
But, when morality divides brothers, is blood truly thicker than water?
For me, ‘Blood Ties’ was one of the biggest surprises for me this year. I was expecting something dull and lifeless, but what I found was something so rich and engaging. There are few films that can handle such a diverse set of characters and make them all feel so alive and detailed, and yet ‘Blood Ties’ never lets you down. Every character’s relationship, interaction and backstory feels so fresh and grounded, and yet the film never loses the ease with which is progresses; it never feels overwrought or bogged down.
And let’s just talk about how this ensemble is absolutely INCREDIBLE. I’ll say this first, even though it pains me, that Goddess Marion Cotillard is the weak link here, thanks to her horrid accent work, but even her missteps cannot tarnish the brilliant cast here. Crudup and Owen ground this film so beautifully, anchoring the splintering relationships with such a believable brotherhood, strained and yet never broken. James Caan is beautifully used as the conflicted, dying father, and Lili Taylor (I wish we saw more of her these days) is so moving as the sister trying to pull her family back together. Mila Kunis continues to show she can hold her own when the material is worthy, and Zoe Saldana all but walks away with the entire film with her layered portrayal of a woman desperate to make sense of her current situation. Her emotional fracturing is astonishing and heartbreaking.
‘Blood Ties’ is a slow burn, yes. It contains so much and yet it tempers it so that the film can breathe. But, because of that, the film glistens with such raw honesty. Canet remembers that filmmaking is not about explosions and blood and sex but that, above all else, filmmaking is about telling a story, about building characters that we can remember, about bringing us into another world.
When the final scene hits, and our jaws drop, and our eyes meet Chris’s and then Frank’s and our heart stops beating for a brief moment; that is when we know Canet succeeded in doing all those things.
I'm tempted to hand this an A+, but for now I'll practice some restraint and give it an A (but I wholly expect to alter that before the end of the year). Oscar, sadly, won't even look at this film, but I can promise you that the Fistis will!