Sometimes a film concept can be a little too dark to draw a mass audience.
Such is the case with Blood Ties, which I saw recently on Netflix instant streaming.
It is a remake of the French thriller Les liens du sang which was taken from the novel Deux frères: flic & truand.
The story, according to the film’s website, takes place in 1974 New York where Chris (Clive Owens) is released from prison for murder. Among the family members who greet him outside the corrections facility are his sister Marie (Lilly Taylor) and his younger brother, Frank (Billy Crudup) an N.Y.P.D. detective.
Chris, a career criminal and Frank, on the badge-wearing side of the law, have been at odds nearly all of their life. Despite the constant tension between them, Frank helps Chris reintegrate into life outside of jail, inviting him to stay in his apartment and getting him a job.
The fundamental differences between the siblings lead to the inevitable dramatic showdown with both men sticking to the life paths they have chosen.
Writing more specifically would be giving too much away.
There is much going for this film.
It is a period story and the production got the look of the mid-seventies down perfectly (I know.I was there.), most noticeably the land yacht-sized cars, the long sideburns and tacky ties.
The leads, Clive Owens and Billy Crudup were excellent.
Owens effortlessly carried Chris’ surly intensity and verbal minimalism. Crudup, as Frank, was constantly torn by the ambivalence in his loyalties, which were quite burdensome.
The script, written by director Guillaume Canet and James Gray, was especially strong with dialogue. The interaction between the male characters was consistently testosterone-fueled and not overly wordy. Tough guys are not known to be verbose.
This played to the advantage of Clive Owens, who, at times, seemed uneasy in ditching his native British accent for the thick New York brogue but pulled it off quite well. Not having too much to say all at once help him greatly.
If there was a problem with the script, it was in trying to fit the nearly ensemble cast and their subordinate storylines, which were quite involved and, in my opinion, drew focus away from building the attention to the inevitable showdown between Chris and Frank.
On their own, the sub-stories almost could have been their own fine movies.
For example, Frank, the detective, jails tough guy Anthony (Matthias Schoenaerts) who has married the ex-girlfriend, Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) for whom Frank still pines.
Meanwhile, Chris meets and falls in love with Natalie (Mila Kunis) while partnering with his drug addict, hooker ex-wife Monica (Marion Cottilard) in a criminal enterprise.
Thrown into the mix was the long family history of Chris and Frank who were raised by their sickly, single parent father Leon (James Caan), who clearly favored his bad guy son.
It was a little too ambitious. Perhaps it would have been better served as a mini-series.
While the main cast was stellar, the supporting cast was equally as good. Most notably were the burly Domenick Lombardozzi as Mike, a sidekick of Chris and John Ventimiglia as Valenti, Frank’s cop partner.
Lilly Taylor, as Marie, and Griffin Dunne as McNally, made the most of their very limited screen time.
Filmed on a relatively small budget of twenty-five million dollars, the film had only a limited theatrical release in the US and never made anywhere near what it cost to produce.
Overall, I feel it is a commendable effort that is worth a look but I can’t recommend it to any degree.