Blood Ties

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.

Blood Ties is about relationships. Set in Brooklyn, NY in 1974, this is the tale of two brothers. Chris is played by Clive Owen, and he is a criminal, while Frank, is a NYC Police detective played by Billy Crudup.

The film starts as Frank and his fellow cops bust into an apartment on a raid. A shootout ensues. As the bullets fly, we hear the song New York Groove performed by Ace Frehley. To complete the bookended film, the film closes in New York’s Grand Central Station with bullets flying once more. Violence to begin and violence to end the film.

Directed by Guillaume Canet who also directed Tell No One, you may be surprised to know that this film is a French production even though it was filmed entirely in the USA. From that opening raid, we quickly shift to the outer gate of a prison. Chris is being released, not fully – it is a weekend furlough. His brother Frank and his sister Marie, played by Lili Taylor, are there to pick him up.

They take him to visit his father Leo (James Caan) who is hospitalized.

It is just a set up to instill the thought that this film will be, above anything else, a film about relationships. That would be the relationship between the brothers. And their father. Then it would mean the relationships with their women which would be Mila Kunis as Chris’s new bride, and Marion Cotillard as his former wife and mother of his two children.

It would also mean Zoe Saldana who is Frank’s love interest.

But connected to her is a character played by Matthias Schoenaerts who had a child with Saldana after she had broken up with Frank years back. And Frank has busted him and sent him to prison.

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The thing of it is there’s too many relationships. We’ve got to balance loyalties, trust, sympathy, and fear. We have to be able to focus to make relationships have meaning for us. But what Canet and his writer James Gray (The Immigrant) have done is to splinter the whole, and that makes caring all the more difficult.

They’ve simply told too many stories. It’s not that we can’t keep track of them, but rather they’re all some how a bit light. You can tell multiple stories, and carry more than a few plot line – in a 10 week TV series because you have time to add layers and depth. Here we just have characters, and to be honest, because they all seem so typical, they are more of what we might call types rather than fully realized characters.

Of the cast, Kunis has the smallest role, as well as making the least impact. In short she’s been wasted. Cotillard and Saldana have fuller roles, and while they bring all they have, Canet and Gray haven’t given them enough to make them memorable.

Ditto for the brothers. Frank is conflicted about his older brother, and has been so ever since they were kids. Of course having a brother who is serving hard time for killing someone is not the thing you want as a police detective. In fact it puts Frank under the gun from his boss played by Noah Emmerich (The Americans).

Chris on the other hand, was never going to be satisfied with the straight life. He liked having a big car, and nice clothes. So he had to draw up some big scores. He’s not conflicted by what he does at all.

They’ve done a great job in recreating the 1970’s in New York, From the clothes to the cars, the apartments, the drug dealers, the whores, to the weapons, the music, even the NYPD uniforms – it all looks and feels right. Maybe some of the music cames after the actual time frame of the film, but it was clearly the 70’s.

But this film is not going to create a lasting impact for you. Whether we are talking about the police raid, the armored car heist, or the chase all the way from Brooklyn up to Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, and right into the bowels of Grand Central, the film plays out, and we are never shocked, or amazed, or even on the edge of our seats.

I’ll rate the film at two point five, but I won’t recommend the film. The film opened on March 21st, 2014, and closed its US theatrical run just two weeks later on April 3rd. The film was shown in just 28 theaters at its widest release. With an estimated budget of about 25 million, the film, despite a stellar cast, clearly tanked in the USA. It didn’t fare much better in France. Its opening weekend in France grossed nearly 1.8 million, but by the third weekend, in France, and despite Canet, a Frenchman as director, it only took in about 70 thousand. Have a look at the trailer.

You can cast your film with bankable actors, but without a terrific script, the box office won’t make much noise. And when it doesn’t all you get is the sound of the money sliding down the chute, gone forever.

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