Movie Review: “Blood Ties” Is A Masterpiece Of Seventies Era Filmmaking

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Review & Interview by James McDonald

Two brothers, on either side of the law, face off over organized crime in Brooklyn during the 1970s.

“Blood Ties” is a marvelous throwback to the movies of the 1970s, especially those of Martin Scorsese. Director Guillaume Canet captures perfectly, the nuances and the essence of everyday life back when the Bee Gees reigned supreme and bell-bottoms were in vogue. For the first time in a long time, I literally felt like I was watching a long-forgotten movie from that era, I didn’t for one second, feel like I was watching a movie that was produced within the last year and that says a lot for director Canet and his very impressive all-star cast which includes Billy Crudup, Clive Owen, Zoe Saldana, Lili Taylor, Mila Kunis, Marion Cotillard and the always reliabale James Caan. It’s not a gangster movie, we don’t have outbursts of violence every few minutes although there are quite a few jarring scenes throughout but this is more of a character piece that is driven by Mr. Crudup and Mr. Owen who play brothers, Frank and Chris, respectively and the different lives they choose to live.

When the movie opens, we see Chris being released from prison. His sister Marie (Lili Taylor) and Frank are waiting outside to bring him home to their father Leon (James Caan). We find out that Frank is a cop and Chris is a criminal and when he is released on furlough, he’s told that he needs to find a job so he can support himself, otherwise, he’ll be sent back to prison. He and Frank have never gotten along but family being family, Frank lets him stay at his place temporarily and then talks to an old friend who runs a garage who gives Chris a job. Chris seems to have every intention of trying to do good but when his ex-wife Monica (Marion Cotillard) informs him that she is seeking child support for the ten years he was in prison, his chances of getting any decent sort of a paying job begin to dwindle away in front of him. An old friend of his, Mike (Domenick Lombardozzi) is trying to set up a legitimate business and wants Chris to help him but when the deal falls apart, the two men resort to their old criminal lifestyles.

What set the story apart for me, from most other movies of its ilk, was the story between Frank and Chris. They’re brothers and they love each other because they’re brothers but they also hate each other with a passion. And it shows. Chris is the hothead, all you have to do is look at him sideways and he’ll smash a bottle over your head. Frank on the other hand, is the quiet one, very reserved and very stoic. It takes a lot for him to get angry but you can see it in his eyes when he’s getting to that point and that is a testament to Mr. Crudup’s simplistic approach to this part and that is why I consider Frank to be even more dangerous. He’s looked upon as the black sheep of the family because he went into law enforcement instead of getting a regular job. When he is tipped off about a big bank job that’s about to go down, he is outside waiting, convinced that his brother is involved.

When nothing happens after the security truck picks up its payload from the bank, the other cops retreat back to the station but Frank knows something is going to happen, he can just feel it and no sooner have the cops left than he sees Chris taking off in high pursuit after the truck. He gives chase and after a bloody shootout, he comes face to face with Chris but when he is afforded the opportunity to shoot him, he can’t pull the trigger and Chris drives away. Frank is involved with Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) and when her ex gets out of prison and finds out that she’s living with Frank, he lets it be known that he’s coming after them both. It’s at this point however, that both Frank and Chris have to depend on each other and bury the past so that they both have a chance at a future.

Anybody who has a sibling will be able to relate to the two brothers here. They really care for each other but because their lives are on separate tracks, it’s virtually impossible for them to truly love each other. In two separate scenes, this shines through. In one scene in a bar, Chris is surrounded by his friends when a troublemaker approaches him and starts badmouthing Frank. In an instant, Chris pummels him into the ground and is short of killing him when he is restrained by his friends. He threatens to kill him if he ever speaks about his brother again. In the other scene, Frank is in the police station and asked to either tell them the whereabouts of his brother or surrender his badge. His badge is thrown on the table and he leaves. Of course, neither brother ever finds out about their loyalty to each other but the final scene in the movie brings it all full circle. A towering achievement.

I N T E R V I E W:

I had the opportunity to speak, albeit briefly, with the film’s director, Guillaume Canet and one of the stars, Billy Crudup.

  • Q: Hi Mr. Canet, James McDonald from Red Carpet Crash. First of all, I’d just like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed “Blood Ties.” It’s the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that felt so 1970’s authentic. How difficult was it to achieve that realism and secondly, throughout the movie, at various times, the music was very reminiscent of many of Lalo Schifrin’s seventies scores. Was that a deliberate nod to him and the era he was most notable for?
  • A: Hi James, concerning the period of time and how we tried our best to be authentic, that was one of the important things for me – to do an homage to the cinema to the American independent 70s because I have always been a huge fan. That was very important to me to make a movie to try to do our best if it was a movie from this time. I am talking about the realism and not the caricature and try to be as realistic as we could be and also the production designer, the lights and how we filmed the movie – I wanted to have this washed out effect with the grain on the image, that was really important to me. For the music, I was listening to a lot of music from that time and it inspired me a lot, it gave me all the ingredients to write the script. Most of the music in the soundtrack was the music I was listening to while writing the film.
  • Q: Mr. Crudup, I really liked how you played the character of Frank. He could have easily been a hothead and exploded at every turn like so many cop characters that we’ve already seen from that era but you almost underplayed the part, which I personally think worked so much better. Did you ever feel, throughout the movie, that you wanted to let go and just hit someone? It almost felt like you had this pentup anger and could explode at any moment and I felt that made your character very unpredictable and dangerous.
  • A: Hi James, this is Billy – Well thank you for that comment and observation. That was really drawn up specifically in the script. I think the way Guillaume spoke about Frank from the beginning was someone who had a lot of sensitivity and vulnerability, but had been so oppressed by his family and his family’s idea about how he should be, he had a lot of built up resentment and I think disappointment in his family.

In select theaters March 21st

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James McDonald
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