Never go against the family. It don’t matter if you’re Italian, Irish, Jewish, Scandinavian, or Purple! You just don’t do it!
After being released from jail for murder, Chris (Clive Owen) is looking towards his newfound freedom with a bit more hope and ambition in his eyes. He doesn’t want to go back to the world of crime, so instead, takes a job at a small-time mechanic where he cleans the floor, scrubs toilets, and takes out the trash; however, when he’s not doing such fine and exciting activities, he’s chatting it up with the young assistant they have there (Mila Kunis). However, one thing leads to another and Chris, through luck-of-the-draw, finds himself back in the world of crime where he’s hustlin’, dealin’ and killin’, like a true New York gangsta, circa 1974. Which, for Chris, would be fine, however, his brother, Frank (Billy Crudup), just so happens to be a cop who is constantly getting heckled for being there for his brother and still associating with him, even when it becomes clear that he may be the main-suspect in a couple of crimes happening throughout the city. But, it’s family. Whattayagonnado?!??!
We’ve all seen it before – the 70’s crime-drama, with all sorts of drugs, gangsters, guns, cops, hot gals, New York – but there’s some refreshing about a good, old-fashioned crime flick. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’ve been watching a bit too much of the Wire and can’t stay away from movies about a bunch of cops and robbers, and the evil, little maniacal ways both sides try to screw with one another; but I absolutely fall silly for it. That is, most of the time, when it’s done right.
Anyway, what I’m trying to get at here is that co-writers James Gray and Guillame Canet clearly have an idea for what it is that they want to do with their movie, which will probably please some by its simplicity, or, absolutely bore others. There are some bits and pieces here where you’ll feel the more-than-two-hour time-limit that it has, but other times, you might just not give a hoot, because each and every one of these performances are so compelling to watch in the first place.
But, then again, most of that has to do with the wring which, necessarily, isn’t all that flashy to begin with. However, where Gray and Cane’t writing-styles really come together is in the building of tension through human-relationships, rather than just through a bunch of shoot-outs or heists. Everytime you see Chris and Frank in the same room, or anywhere near being in the same vicinity of one another, you automatically feel like all hell is going to break loose, regardless of if they see each other or not. There’s just a sense, or a feeling in the air that these are two brothers that love each other until the day they die, but definitely can’t stand to be around the other, especially when one seems to have a lot more shit on the other for “selling out”.
Yup, if you’ve ever had a problem with a sibling of yours (brother, sister, father, mother, house-pet, etc.) this is the movie for you. Then again, most of whatever James Gray touches turns out to be that way. Another aspect about his movies that will probably kill some viewer’s minds is how he takes his near and dear time; not just with this story, but with these characters and who it is that they are. This was fine for me – not because I’m familiar with Gray’s work and expected it, but because most of the characters are written in a way that makes you actually care about them, and see whether or not this story gets so out-of-hand that bodies start dropping and emotions start flying, along with bullets, most likely. Though it may take awhile to get where it needs get going to, Gray and Canet keep this movie flowing at just the right pace: Not necessarily a snail-like speed, maybe the tortoise-who-beat-the-hare pace.
Dumb analogy, I know, but it’s all I got, people! All I got!
Where most of this movie loses points in, is that it’s not really anything spectacular or terribly original to where you can differentiate it from the rest of the crime-dramas that come out every now and then, especially ones that take place during the 70’s. Don’t get me wrong, the look and feel of this movie definitely transported me to the deep, dark and dirty days of 1970’s-era NYC, but the story itself, minus the inclusions of cell-phones, could have literally taken place at anytime in the Big Apple, after say, I don’t know, the 1930’s or 40’s. It’s just that conventional, but that doesn’t make it bad really; just makes you wish Canet and Gray decided to play-around a bit more, rather than just spending all of their time on the characters.
Then again though, can’t hate on them too much, because the characters they were able to draw-up here, are what keeps this movie in balance. Which is to thank both Gray and Canet, as well as the awesome ensemble. Don’t know if anybody else out there saw Clive Owen playing a “rough and tough, NYC gangster, bad-boy” coming, but hey, the guy does a great job with it. He’s not only able to hide his British-accent very well, but he’s also able to make us crap our pants even more when he shows up and not totally know what to expect from him next. He’s a bit of a live-wire that does have his chill moments, but it’s clear that they are very few, and far between.
As for Billy Crudup, who plays his cop-brother Frank, he does a fine job giving an unsympathetic character enough substance to where we can get on his side, even if we don’t particularly agree with him. See, the main problem that his character has is that he’s got this whole subplot going on with Zoe Saldana’s character, in which they used to date, and he’s all of a sudden, thrown her latest boy-toy in the slammer for “reasons unknown”. Therefore, we kind of see Frank as a bit of a manipulative dick that uses his power and authority for the betterment of himself and his wee-wee (you know, a cop), but Crudup is at least able to let us slide by that problem with his character and realize that, at heart, he’s a kind guy that goes through thick and thin for the ones he loves. The only thing that’s getting himself into some foggy-water is that the people that he loves and sticks up for, aren’t the best cast of characters.
Since I was just speaking of Saldana, I think it should be noted that where this flick really screws up in, is that it doesn’t take much care of its female characters. It’s weird, too, because when you have such heavy-hitters as Mila Kunis, previously mentioned Saldana, Marion Cotillard, and even Lili Taylor in your movie, and you don’t do much with them, except them give them a couple of scenes where they stray near the boys, does seem like a huge waste once you really get down to it. And it’s not even like the writers made these females out to be as nothing other than “whores”, “sluts”, or, “total and complete beotches” (well, except for maybe Cotillard’s character who is literally a “whore” and screws guys for money; therefore, making her a “slut”); it’s more that the writers just didn’t take the time to give any of them much more than what you see on the surface. They are strong-willed, smart and independent, but you don’t see that fully play-out to where everybody gets a say in this story.
It’s just simply a boy’s show. Which is why we also have James Caan here as well. Can’t ever go wrong with that guy just showing up and doing his thing.
Consensus: Though conventional and, in certain ways, unoriginal, Blood Ties is still able to get by solely on the well-written characters, and the ensemble that give most of these characters lives worth checking out. If only for two-hours out of your day. That’s all.
7 / 10 = Rental!!