Sunday, February 1, 2015

Blood Ties

1.5/4

Starring: Billy Crudup, Clive Owen, Zoe Saldana, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Matthias Schoenaerts, Noah Emmerich, Domenick Lombardozzi, James Caan

Rated R for Violence, Pervasive Language, Some Sexual Content and Brief Drug Use

If there was any movie that was tailor-made to be directed by Martin Scorcese, this is it.  "Blood Ties," with its themes of family. twisted loyalties, crime and violence (not to mention guilt), demanded the Scorcese touch.  Alas, we have French actor/director Guillaume Canet, who is completely in over his head.

The film takes place in the 1970's.  Chris (Owen) has just gotten out of prison.  His brother Frank (Crudup), ironically, is a cop.  Their father Leon (Caan) is dying of cancer and their sister Marie cares for him.

The brothers' love lives are also important.  Chris's ex, Monica (Cotillard) is a drug addict and a prostitute, and he finds a connection with the secretary at his new job, a lovely girl named Natalie (Kunis).  Frank has past history with Vanessa (Saldana), the wife of Scarfo (Schoenaerts), a violent low life.  However, to him, the fact that he was sleeping with the wife of the man he put away is less important than the fact that she's black.

Good so far.  To be honest, this story, a remake of a French film (starring Canet himself) that was based on a novel, had a lot of potential.  But as directed by Canet, it's almost entirely unrealized.  The characters are boring, the acting is stiff, and the dialogue is clunky.

For a cast this great, it's surprising that there's only one truly memorable performance to be found, and that's because Clive Owen is like Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino: completely incapable of giving a bad performance.  Owen is effective, but can't save such a thinly written (not to mention cliched) character.  Billy Crudup is miscast.  His range is limited, and while he is a decent character actor (like in "Big Fish" or "Almost Famous"), he lacks the presence or gravitas to handle the lead in a crime epic.  The supporting characters aren't much better, although this is partly due to the fact that they have so little screen time.  The exception is Mila Kunis.  Like Billy Crudup, her range is limited to comedy ("Ted") and playing psychos ("Black Swan").  Drama is not her forte, and this shows why.  Thankfully, she doesn't have a lot of screen time (lest I seem to hard on her, I like Kunis as a comedienne and I thought she was terrific in "Black Swan").

The script is paper thin.  There's very little in the way of character depth, emotional complexity, or even interesting dialogue.  For a movie that is, at least on paper, about family loyalty in the "cops and robbers" genre, Canet does surprisingly little with it.  He is more concerned with giving everyone screen time that he forgets what the film is actually about.  The film is poorly focused and in badly need of editing.  The script could also have done with some rewrites.  Heavy ones.

Few types of movies are more disheartening than movies that don't reach their potential.  "The Giver," "Shanghai," "Pieces of April," "Firelight..." the list goes on.  Add "Blood Ties" to that unfortunate list.

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