By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
I’m not terribly fond of James Gray. His projects seem to have some of the greatest stellar cast to disappointing output ratios in the business.
Although he’s no latter-day John Hillcoat
Now Blood Ties is not directed by Gray, but French actor-turned-director Guillame Canet co-wrote the script with him, and his fingerprints are all over it. It’s a sprawling family tale of cops and criminals set in 1970s New York. Billy Crudup is a cop in love with Zoe Saldana, the wife of an aggressive criminal (Mathias Schoenaerts) he just locked up. His life gets further complicated when his Dad’s (James Caan) favorite kid (Clive Owen… sorry other kid Lilly Taylor) gets out of jail after serving a long sentence. Will he go straight, either with new girlfriend Mila Kunis or the jaded mother of his children (Marion Cotillard), or will he return to a life of crime and face off against Crudup, Brother vs. Brother? Put more simply: Is this a movie?
Holy Shit, did you see that cast? A movie can only go so wrong with that much talent involved, and if you’re a fan of any of these actors, you’ll find something to like. Personally, I dug how the Belgian Schoenaerts disappeared into this American toughguy role. He’s going to be a Hollywood star in no time, a la Tom Hardy. Clive Owen’s also always a magnetic, engaging presence and is quite good as a brutish criminal with a glimmer of hopeful humanity.
The set design, costuming, music, and other period details are all dead on as well, creating an immersive, lived-in world that must have given poor Mila Kunis flashbacks.
Nooooo! Not again!
Canet flashes some quality directorial skills, even if he is cribbing his style from better filmmakers, particularly his mentor Gray, with plenty of Scorcese mixed in for good measure, especially in his use of music and tracking shots. He can certainly shoot an action scene, too, with several standout sequences vying for the most impressive crown.
Unfortunately, Blood Ties is considerably less than a sum of its parts. It reminds me a lot of Gray’s We Own the Night, actually, another tale of crime and family and the sins of the past with a great cast and look that ended up feeling undercooked and strangely lifeless.
Part of the problem is that we’ve seen all of this before, and nobody really makes an even remotely surprising decision for the duration of the film. Of course the cop has an affair with the criminal’s wife and of course she’s down for it after a token resistance and of course his dad’s a dying hardass and of course his brother is a criminal who of course can’t go straight and of course there’s a Christmas Eve arrest… I’ll stop now or this would just be a plot synopsis. It’s like Plot-a-Tron 3000 wrote this thing.
To be fair, Plot-a-Tron has a couple of Oscars
The other big issue here is that it (and a good chunk of Gray’s oeuvre) is basically misery porn. No scene can end without a Droopy Dog face or a family screaming match, but even worse, non of these characters are developed enough for you to give a shit whether they’re happy or not.
(Don’t worry, they’ll never be happy, not a one.)
A few more drink-worthy observations:
– CGI blood, really? Everybody gets bellbottoms and record players, but you can’t afford some damn squibs?
– What accent is Cotillard trying for? French Puerto Rican Marlon Brando?
– Okay, I”ll buy a freeze frame ending. Kinda. By why that freeze frame? How about a nice pan up out of the train station and over NYC? Okay, stuck on the freeze frame? How about one of his eyes or him walking away? Anything would’ve been an improvement on a half-turned back of a head.
Blood Ties has a lot of great elements, but an overstuffed, miserable script results in a thoroughly mediocre end product.
Take a Drink: whenever someone talks revolution, man
Take a Drink: whenever someone smokes
Take a Drink: for every public phone call
Take a Drink: for hippy slang
Do a Shot: whenever a cop acts like a dick or idiot