Clive Owen and Billy Crudup lead a starry cast in a fitfully successful retro thriller
French director Guillaume Canet's English-language debut has the swagger of a Cain and Abel version of Mean Streets. The film is set in 1970s Brooklyn and Canet is clearly intent on crafting something that Scorsese or Sidney Lumet might have made back in the day. There are moments when he comes close, but no amount of snazzy soundtrack choices and retro costume design can overcome the wearily predictable story and occasionally oddball casting decisions.
Blood Ties is a remake of Jacques Maillot's Les Liens Du Sang (Rivals) in which Canet co-starred with François Cluzet as anguished good cop brother / callous criminal brother in 1970s Lyon. Canet has co-written his adaptation with James Gray and maybe it is Gray's influence that tipped the balance towards the conventionality found in his own directorial credits like We Own the Night.
Clive Owen is the surprise choice to play rotten apple Chris. Released from prison after serving time for murder, Chris moves in with his loyal but wary brother Frank (Billy Crudup). Chris makes all the wrong choices yet always seems to come out smiling. Decent, law-abiding cop Frank ties himself in knots yet slowly surrenders his grasp on the life he wants. The film throws up moral dilemmas for both men as blood proves thicker than water and redemption remains possible, even at the eleventh hour.
Blood Ties never quite gets as gritty or grimy as you might have liked, although Canet does draw some sharp performances from a heavyweight cast that includes 1970s veteran James Caan as the brothers' father Leon and a fierce Marion Cotillard as Chris's drug-addled ex-wife Monica. There are scenes, moments and performances that all burn brightly but the sprawling Blood Ties never quite lets rip, or manages to connect up all these promising dots.
Selected release from Fri 15 Aug.