Blood Ties posterDirector: Guillaume Canet

Screenplay: Guillame Canet & James Gray

Starring: Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Billy Crudup, Zoe Saldana & James Caan

Year: 2013
Country: USA, France

BBFC Classification: 15

Guillaume Canet, the director of Tell No One and Little White Lies, makes an impressive English language debut in Blood Ties, which while it sometimes buckles under its own melodrama is nevertheless a cracking 70s set family drama with cop thriller overtones.

It’s 1974 and New York cop Frank (Crudup) is awaiting the release of his brother Chris (Owen) from 9 years of prison. The two have a volatile relationship, what with working on opposite sides of the law, but try to make amends for the sake of their sick father (Caan) who just wants his family to be happy now they are back together. However, it’s not long before Chris is falling back into his old violent ways when leading a “normal” life doesn’t come easy to him. Likewise, Frank finds his own values challenged when he rekindles a romance with a known criminal’s wife (Zaldana) and starts to believe that family honour may be more important than cops’ honour.

Impeccably 70s in its style, setting and story, Guillaume Canet’s film is often like a love letter to a bygone era of filmmaking and films all the while being a riveting cop drama in its own right. The style and look of the film never dominates proceedings, the production team recreating the 70s in a subtle and convincing manner meaning this is no flashy pastiche of the era or genre but a gritty slice of drama that benefits from some great character development. At over 2 hours, Canet crams in a lot of family strife between the brothers and their burgeoning relationships with various women (with Owen striking up a romance with Kunis’ lowly office worker, all the while maintaining a bond/hold over his ex-wife, Cotillard) with their quests for their own perfect lives leading the two brothers down paths they never expected. For the most part this is engaging stuff and Owen and Cudrup are excellent in their roles, Owen playing the tightly wound and prone to explosions of violence brother, Cudrup the quietly intense one. Likewise Zoe Zaldana is excellent enduring much of the emotional outpouring during the first half of the film and James Caan gets a few meaty scenes as a father who just wants the best for his sons.
Unfortunately, Kunis and Cotillard are left on the sidelines a little bit, their characters somewhat underdeveloped with Cotillard’s late act transformation into a brothel madam rather rushed. The plot strand of Zaldana’s imprisoned husband (an excellent Matthew Shoenaerts) is also a tad undercooked but provides the thrust for an exciting finale when proceedings mount to a suspenseful climax. Perhaps the film’s only major flaw is too much time given to the brotherly strife and family drama. While it’s convincingly played out by the actors’ one can’t help but feel there are one too many scenes of brotherly brooding and fighting which tips the film over into soap opera territory on several occasions and scuppers the intense pace and mood the film was achieving.

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However, this doesn’t derail the stellar work done here by the director and cast and on the whole Blood Ties is an enthralling crime drama. Wonderfully shot in that old school 70s way (no fast cuts or tricksy editing here) and with a great soundtrack, impressive performances and several moments of startling violence and action (that armoured truck robbery!) making Guillaume Canet’s film worth seeking out.

Blood Ties is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on the 6th October 2014 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment and features a cool behind the scenes look at the making of the film.

Review by Andrew Skeates

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