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blood-ties-poster2014

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Directed by: Guillaume Canet

Starring: Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis

Somewhere between clear masterpieces and films you’re glad are over, sit films like Blood Ties – films that don’t quite fulfil their potential.

The film focuses on the idea of duty versus family, as it follows two brothers, Frank (Billy Crudup) and Chris (Clive Owen), and their experiences in 1970’s New York; One is a well-respected cop, the other a career criminal just out of jail after 9 years.

The film’s emotional drive comes from these brothers, who are equally likeable and flawed in different ways, and are a testament to the idea that no one is perfect. The focus of the film, however, is not solely on the brothers, as it adopts an ensemble feel with other important players. Mila Kunis and Zoe Saldana portray the love interests of the two brothers, though Saldana’s character is well rounded and integral to the plot. In addition, Marion Cotillard, James Caan and Lili Taylor play key roles, as part of the extended family at the centre of the film.

Owen’s Chris is certainly an anti-hero. How he explains the crime that put him away – killing a man who had raped and killed his lover – doesn’t sit well with the fact that he shows a complete aversion towards violence and crime. Yet somehow he remains ever so slightly likeable. Oddly, he’s somewhat reminiscent of Niko Bellic, the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, a character who commits countless heinous acts, yet is someone whose marriage is still a happy occasion. The New York setting, the ties of family, and the character’s sheer swagger, only deepen the similarities.
blood-ties-stillMeanwhile, there is Crudup’s Frank. Ostensibly, he should be the film’s moral compass, a cop who as a child refused to keep watch as his brother robbed a house. Yet he too is conflicted. He abandons his badge to tip off his brother, choosing family over duty. He’s a walking answer to the central idea – where duty and family conflict, to ‘win’ is impossible.

Canet’s directorial style aids the character work well, lingering on each character for lengthy periods and taking in their facial expressions as much as their dialogue to add to the development; Chris smiling manically during a Thanksgiving argument and Frank halfway between laughing and crying throughout much of the film. Canet’s beginnings as an actor are clear to see, as he allows his cast to really show off their abilities.

This all suggests a perfect film, yet Blood Ties is not without its flaws. There’s a lack of tension throughout the two and a half hour run time. Events don’t feel quite as important as they should. The ending in particular – the culmination of a dramatic, tense and emotive series of events – feels surprisingly empty. The dialogue could also be better, feeling too exaggerated in its portrayal of New York natives. A narrative that feels slightly detached from reality further betrays the fantastic production values. There are simply too many moments where logic gives way to furthering the plot.

Whether you see it at the cinema or rent it on demand – it has a simultaneous release – Blood Ties is worth a watch. But despite the positives outweighing the negatives, it’s a film that still comes up short, leaving you wishing it had given you more.

★★★

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