Blood Ties: Familiar, Underdeveloped Crime Melodrama

blood_ties_4Guillaume Canet, the talented actor-director-writer (and husband of Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard), makes a disappointing entrance into English-language cinema with “Blood Ties,” his remake of the superior French drama, “Les Liens du sang.”

 

blood_ties_5The best thing about this slow-paced, overlong (almost two and half hours), underdeveloped family-crime melodrama is its high-profile international cast, headed by Clive Owen and Billy Crudup, as the feuding brothers who have the knack to turn almost every family event into a violent fight.

As a genre film, “Blood Ties” is also noteworthy for the relatively large number of women, played by the likes of Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, and Lili Taylor, even is they mosty play largely underdeveloped parts; the whole movie feels undernourished.

The blend of French, American, and British performers is a mixed blessing due to the struggle of the actors with attempting a convincing American accent—and a Brooklynese one at that.

Canet, you may recall, scored a breakout hit with “Tell No One,” in 2007, which, due to positive reviews and word-of-mouth, grossed over $6 million in the U.S. alone.

blood_ties_3Based on a roman a by Michel and Bruno Papet, Maillot’s French film starred Canet as a Lyon police officer thrown back into the life of his criminal brother (François Cluzet) when the latter is released from prison.

The remake is co-scripted by Canet and director-writer James Gray, whose “We Own the Night” also featured siblings on opposite sides of the law, and whose new film, “The Immigrant,” plays in competition later in the week.

blood_ties_1Set in Brooklyn in the 1970s, the tale centers on a family headed by a rigid patriarch (James Caan) and defined by thick blood and intense relationships. The story begins well, when Brooklyn cop Franck (Billy Crudup) and his sister Marie (Lili Taylor) greet their paroled brother Chris (Clive Owen) after serving years for a murder.

It’s not exactly a happy reunion: Chris resents the fact that Fanck never visited him in jail during the nine years he was there. Even so, Chris decides to go straight, taking a job at a garage and trying to reconcile with his estranged family, his junkie wife (Cotillard), son and daughter. But he is a doomed character, defined by uncontrollable, volatile temper, and his modest goal to start a legit business, a hot-dog stand in Prospect Park, goes up in flames.

blood_ties_2Meanwhile, Franck wishes to rekindle the affair with his former girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), and to that extent, he makes sure that her husband (Matthias Schoenaerts of “Rust and Sand” fame) is behind bars.

It’s only a matter of time before the arguments and feuds escalate into a showdown between the rivaling siblings, which takes place at the Grand Central Station.

 

Canet should be commended for his attention to period details, in terms of fashion (men’s facial hair, women’s costumes), and music, though his choice of soundtrack is. Like the film, too literal and obvious. For example, the song “Do What You Gotta Do” is played when the brothers are fighting, and “Money, Money, Money,” when the cash is flowing.

Strangely, Canet has cast his talented wife, Cotillard, in the stereotypical role of a junkie prostitute, and introduces her to the tunes of Lee Moses’s “Bad Girl.”

As narrative, “Blood Ties” unfolds as an old-fashioned, familiar family melodrama, rather than as a crime-thriller, which may explains why it was not selected for the Main Competition.

The sluggishly paced will suffer from the inevitable comparisons that will be made with good American crime movies, by Scorsese and others.