Blood Ties - Online Review

'Blood Ties is a Guillaume Canet film in all but name: this is recognisably a James Gray production. Gone is the tenseness of Canet's Tell No One, in favour of Gray's tendency to push the focus towards character and introspective emotion'

Blood Ties is a remake of French offering Les Liens du Sang (English title: Rivals) by director Jacques Maillot, imported to the US mainly at the behest of, it seems, James Gray, who here serves as writer and executive producer, installing Frenchman Guillaume Canet (who featured as an actor in the original) in the director's chair. It is the James Gray part of that slightly complicated equation which seems to rule the roost over many of the film's problems.

Gray is a film-maker who has garnered a fairly small but loyal band of support over the last few years. They would claim that he is an auteur who makes elevated Americana; films that could be much more standard genre offerings than they turn out to be. Whilst I would say part of that is true (Gray does take genre films in unexpected directions when compared to his peers), I would also say that he is almost exclusively unsuccessful in his endeavours.

Blood Ties is a Guillaume Canet film in all but name: this is recognisably a James Gray production. Gone is the tenseness of Canet's Tell No One (a favourite amongst fans of international genre flicks), in favour of Gray's tendency to push the focus towards character and introspective emotion and away from drama and action.

You can see why the film appealed to Gray. Focusing on two brothers (Clive Owen and Billy Crudup) on either side of the law, Blood Ties is fascinated with the indelible links that make family inseparable and the very human choices that often make harmony impossible. Standing between Chris (Owen) and Frank (Crudrup), fellow family features James Caan, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana and Lili Taylor are buffeted by the trade winds.

The problem is that, because the Gray/Canet access seems so focused on the character drama (although only with Chris and Frank; many others are woefully under-served) they forget about plot. Chris slowly becomes the quietest, least identifiable gangster in history, whilst Frank goes on to do... what exactly? The film never says. Meanwhile, parts that will become key - like Monica (Cotillard) and Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts) don't get the development they need. We are meant to believe that Monica is desperate but are never given explicit reason for doing so; that Scarfo is a potentially deadly, horrendously jealous, abusive loose canon, but again are never shown why.

Blood Ties is not terrible, there are things here to watch and a large talented cast, but its pretentious insistence that it is more than a genre film stops it from becoming a good genre film, or a good character piece. Canet is so caught up in going for introspective emotion that he forgets elements less sophisticated but nonetheless vital; action, pomp, set pieces; the things that inform character and plot successfully in the film's of Grey's peers. The finale, clearly meant to be emotionally resonant, is anything but, precisely because of Canet and Grey's genre 'innovation'.




Blood Ties was streaming on Netflix.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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