There’s something about France right now that is fertile ground for American studios. France, which inspired a wave of film-makers 50 years ago with the New Wave, is proving to be a tremendous place for American films to find their footing. A handful of French films in the past decade have found their way into American variants, the highest profile perhaps being The Next Three Days turning into a Russell Crowe vehicle from the French original Anything For Her. A film with a much more prominent cast than that film, Blood Ties, found a limited release in March of this year but never found its way beyond a handful of markets.
It’s a fairly simple premise. Chris (Clive Owen) is a convict who just got out of prison trying to live the clean life. His brother Frank (Billy Crudup) is a police officer who wants that, as well, and tries to help Chris live the straight life. As always in a crime film he can’t, of course, but the relationship between him and his brother becomes paramount. Will Frank turn in his brother, putting the law ahead of his family? Or can he turn away, putting away his badge for the stronger ties of blood family?
The first thing you notice is that this has a profoundly good cast for a film that never got a wide release, was screened out of competition at Cannes and looks every bit the type of film that gets a limited release at the end of the year as it goes for awards. The cast on this film, even in some of the smaller roles, is fairly substantial for a film that essentially did just enough to not be labeled a DTV release. It says something about the state of cinema in America that a film with this cast can find its way DTV instead of getting a limited prestige style release.
It’s also not that good, either, as Blood Ties is basically a collection of crime movie tropes that we’ve seen before with nothing new added to them. In comparison to American Hustle, another period caper piece from the fall of 2013, the film doesn’t try to do anything all that different. Whereas Hustle wasn’t all that good, but did just enough different that it felt like a good movie, Blood Ties is just two hours everything we’ve seen before wrapped up in nostalgia.
The film does what the French version did, transferring 1970s Paris to 1970s New York City, and walks us through the motions of the “criminal can’t escape his past” level of story-telling. It’s paint by numbers, pure and simple, pushing a 90 minute story into a much longer one to pull off a sense of being operatic. Canet is looking at this film like he’s Michael Mann instead of Michael Bay; this has the feel of a pulpy thriller instead of a dramatic look into the nature of man.
There’s enough filler scenes that one can see where Canet is going with it. He loves these characters, even ancillary ones like Zoe Saldana’s character, and doesn’t want to cut anything that could shed us light into it. He’s got about a half hour worth of material that could be gutted to make it sleeker; the interesting parts, of the relationship between Frank and Chris as brothers and in the traditional cop/criminal dynamic, are buffeted by ton of material that could be excised and the film would not miss a beat.
Blood Ties is interesting as a period crime piece … but isn’t a great film. It’s marginally good at best, more worthwhile as a Netflix view or a RedBox rental than for purchase.
An EPK behind the scenes pieces is included and that’s it.
Lionsgate presents Blood Ties . Directed by Guillaume Canet. Written by Canet and James Gray based off “Les liens du sang” by Jacques Maillot. Starring Billy Crudup, Clive Owen, Mila Kunis, James Caan. Running time: 144 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: June 24, 2014.