Blood Ties (Rated R, 128 minutes)
This stereotypical gangster film follows two brothers on opposite sides of the law. Frank (Billy Crudup) is the overly persistent cop and Chris (Clive Own) is the recently released convict who starts to revert to his old life. Now, I am a sucker for gangster films; yes, even the sloppily made ones have a ‘guilty pleasure aroma’ that kept me watching. For example, Ray Stevenson’s Kill the Irishman, suffers from poor writing and directing; however, the film has a ‘no holds bar’ charm that helps me ignore the problems.
the lack of fun results in it being too serious to be considered a guilty pleasure. Now, this is a picture that I have been excited for since it premiered at 2013s Cannes Film Festival; it is perfectly set in the mafia heyday of 70s Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the initial screening at Cannes received mixed to terrible reviews. This is a shame because Clive Owen and Billy Crudup are two of the most underrated actors in Hollywood; furthermore, the highly praised director, Guillaume Canet, was behind the critically lauded Tell No One.
Now after these terrible reviews, the director and editor were forced to cut out about twenty minutes of the film’s original 144-minute runtime. Now any critic will admit, sometimes cutting a movie’s runtime will improve the overall product; however, the editing of Blood Ties, results in the puzzlement of the audience. Constantly throughout the film, the viewer is bombarded with information that has not been established; or it could have been established in the scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. For instance, both Mila Kunis’ Natalie and Chris’ kids disappear from the movie. They serve their purpose in a few scenes and then are forgotten about for majority of the runtime: this begs the question, why introduce these characters at all?
Furthermore, several scenes or bits of dialogue happen without any justification or establishment; for instance, when Clive Owen’s Chris gets a new job as a mechanic, the audience believes it is going well. But suddenly, the boss of the auto repair store, who has been talked about but not introduced, starts acting like a jerk towards Chris; has Chris warranted this or does the owner always act like this? The audience does not know because the movie does not establish that Chris is a bad worker or that the boss is a jerk. And again, this is not the only part that feels missing from the movie; constantly, the movie lackadaisically has side characters that say things that should have been previously established. Instead, the audience has to guess what they mean or assume that their relationship is a preconceived notion; for example, the audience is constantly reminded that Frank is a good cop. But the only time the viewer sees him doing detective work is when he fails at the beginning of act one.
But what makes Blood Ties even worse is the multiple sub-plots, which are either left unresolved or terribly predictable. As previously mentioned, Chris’ relationship with his kids is a sub-plot that is completely forgotten about and it remains unresolved. But at the same time, elements like James Caan as the father or Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) and her criminal boyfriend feel like scrapped ideas from better gangster films. The script feels like a first draft written by a film student, which is being kind to it. Zoe Saldana, James Caan, and Marion Cotillard’s characters feel like they deserved more attention, yet they are only set pieces designed to move the story forward; and what further infuriates the viewer is that these set pieces (particularly James Caan’s Leon) are riddled clichés. Yes, sometimes pictures can be seemingly convoluted and still work, however, Blood Ties wants to be the gangster epic with multiple sub-plots but it seems the writers and director ‘bit off way more than they could chew.’
With this said, the writers of this film watched way too many gangster films and either sloppily copied or used the worst elements from them. For instance, the soundtrack used every single mafia movie cliché possible; from Cream to the Crystals, it felt like Canet watched Goodfellas and assumed its music would work in Blood Ties. But music only works in a movie when it causes the audience to feel a particular emotion. However, unlike Goodfellas the music in this ‘wannabe’ is there to remind the viewer that he or she is watching a mob film: something the music should not have to do. And again, there are projects out there that can be considered carbon copies of mafia pictures, and yet they still work: the easiest example of this is the Scorsese homage known as American Hustle. But between the dialogue, music, and ambiance, Blood Ties takes itself too serious, while failing to emulate the best aspects of mob pictures; for instance, the cringe-worthy dialogue is so bad that it reminded me of another terrible ‘gangster emulation,’ We Own the Night.Coincidentally that was written and directed by James Gray, the co-writer of Blood Ties.
But the worst aspect of Canet’s film is the wasted talent; again, Billy Crudup and Clive Owen are two of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. However, Owen is the only actor that seems to be having fun with his role. He almost elevates the material to the point that it is bearable, yet he cannot carry the movie alone. Especially since Blood Ties spends half of the runtime with the uninteresting Frank (Billy Crudup). Yes, Crudup is the only actor in this movie that perfects the Brooklyn accent, but this does not improve his character, who comes off as whiny and boring. Meanwhile, the audience waits for the more interesting Chris to return in order to shift this schlock out of neutral. But this has nothing to do with Crudup’s acting: it is hard to do anything with a poorly written character. Last, both Marion Cotillard and Mila Kunis’ characters feel like ‘after thoughts:’ again, both are used merely to move the plot forward, however, neither character can break out of their ‘one dimensional shell.’ I do not know why either of these actresses agreed to be in this flick because unknown actresses, with the same result, could have easily played these unflattering roles.
Well anyone could see that this movie was a huge disappointment; the sad part is that at times Blood Ties is a beautifully gritty movie. Canet knows what he is doing behind the camera; however, this or Clive Owen’s fun performance cannot make up for the writing, which could be called cheesy at best. Instead of the epic it is intended to be, the audience is left with a complete and utter dud: which should not be the case when it is bolstered with so much talent. Now if you still want to see this utter failure, Blood Ties is available for a fee on demand.