REVIEW: Blood Ties

22 06 2014

Blood TiesCannes Film Festival – Out of Competition, 2013

It’s clear from the beginning of “Blood Ties” that Guillaume Canet’s English-language feature debut is a Scorsese-lite New York ensemble drama.  Still, to so successfully channel a modern master right out of the gate is pretty impressive.  While Canet’s direction is hardly novel, he always keeps the film fun and compelling.

His ’70s saga follows the exploits of the two Pierzynski brothers squaring off on opposite sides of the law, Chris (Clive Owen) the criminal and Frank (Billy Crudup) the cop.  If the premise sounds familiar, well, it is.  In fact, the film is co-written by Canet with the help of James Gray, who himself wrote/directed a very similar tale of fraternal opposition called “We Own the Night” back in 2007.

Yet even though it felt like I knew these characters from other movies, they still thrilled me.  Gray, a consummate crafter of familial tension, completely nails the tricky dynamics between Chris and Frank.  They have always been pitted against each other, so a natural rivalry has been fostered between them.  Yet underneath it all, there’s the undeniable pull of – wait for it – blood ties that every so often overpowers all else.

Clive Owen is once again dastardly convincing in a brutish role, recalling his gripping performance in “Inside Man.”  However, it’s Billy Crudup who really carries the movie with a quiet strength.  He never really got a role to showcase all the talent he showed in “Almost Famous,” and now, 14 years later, Crudup arrives again with a bang.

Clive Owen in Blood Ties

Beyond its two leading men, “Blood Ties” also offers a seemingly endless array of period pop songs and ensemble players.  The supporting cast is stocked with talent, from James Caan as an aging patriarch to Marion Cotillard as Monica, an ex-lover of Chris’ who is enthrallingly volatile.  It also features an endless supply of lovers it’s less sure how to handle, brought to life by Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, and Matthias Schoenaerts.

When I saw the film at Cannes, it ran a trying 144 minutes.  Somewhere between then and its general release, roughly 20 minutes have been cut.  Hopefully most of it came from these subplots that don’t add much to the film, save Cotillard’s since she can basically do no wrong.

Even at that bloated length, though, it never seemed to sag under the weight of its complex web of stories.  Canet and Gray retell their tale with such an enthusiastic gusto that their enjoyment making the film quickly became my own while watching it.  “Blood Ties” never feels like just a conventional rip-off; Canet’s film is entertaining and engaging in its own right. B+3stars

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