Even though it was filmed in New York, “Blood Ties” is a remake of a French movie, a remake remade by a mostly French team. It keeps the feel of a “foreign” film, which is a good thing; we’ve seen enough American low-level hoods fighting brother against brother. The French do it classier.
Fraternal rivalry is everything in the tough Manhattan precincts of “Blood Ties”. Jailbird ex-con tough guy Clive Owen (the poor man’s Joaquin Phoenix) and put-upon detective Billy Crudup spar about their dying father, Clive’s criminal past, Clive’s criminal future, women and sideburns. No contest, really, Clive really has the sidies going for him. Crudup compensates with a 70’s pornstache, but the older, bigger tougher brother has the charisma and the burnsides.
It’s obvious from the get-go how all this is going to come together at the end, after cop Crudup sends his romantic rival to jail; an under-written Zoe Saldana is the object of their affections and when the rival does get out of prison….
All of the women are under-written, in fact. Aside from Clive’s sister, Lili Taylor, who serves mostly to try to break up fights between the battling brothers, all of the women are hapless or prostitutes or hapless prostitutes. Marion Cotillard is the name actress in the last category. Not much of a role but she does get to emote a bit. Mila Kunis has even less to work with as Clive’s main squeeze. Falls for the bad boy, gets pregnant, stands by her man until she doesn’t and that’s the last we see of her. James Caan as the dying father who never loved his younger son enough is great. When is James Caan in an old man role not great?
What’s to like? Some decent acting by Clive Owen and Billy Crudup, some nice gritty streetscapes, a sleazy dive bar where conspirators conspire about their next big score, and a bang-up car chase through the strangely non-traffic-jammed streets of Manhattan. Clive not only doesn’t get stuck behind double-parked trucks while outrunning dozens of police cars, he even finds a parking place right in front of Grand Central!
But it’s a nice chase, with gigantic Cadillacs and Mopars and Chevrolets clashing like metal dinosaurs on the streets of the city. Seriously fun to see these 60’s and 70’s Detroit irons dueling and crunching. Aside from lacking a car-through-the-fruit-stand bit, it’s first rate. Whenever you see a survivor Coupe de Ville on the road today, looming over the Camrys and Accords like some Pleistocene leftover, it’s a hoot. And there are streets full of them in “Blood Ties”.
I wonder what the car chase in the French original looked like? Citroens and Peugots of the 70’s dicing through the arrondissments of Paris just wouldn’t be the same. Just as “Blood Ties” wouldn’t be the same without the luxuriant sideburns sported by cops and bad guys alike. It was a hairy time back then.
Apparently a financial disaster of epic proportions, “Blood Ties” is still decent workout fodder, keeping your attention while the elliptical burns your calories. Not Oscar material by any stretch, but you’ve seen worse, and will see worse again.