Film Review: Blood Ties

Brothers on opposite sides of the law battle gangsters and cops in 1974 Brooklyn. Likeable cast can't salvage this adaptation of a French thriller.

A remake of a 2008 French movie, Blood Ties never gets much deeper than its title. Two brothers in Brooklyn, one a cop, one a crook—there's not much math to do, certainly not in the two hours-plus that director and co-writer Guillaume Canet puts in here.

Set for no strong reason in 1974, Blood Ties starts with a shootout in a tenement apartment that sets Frank (Billy Crudup), a by-the-book cop, against tattooed drug dealer Anthony Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts), who will be jailed on a minor charge unless more evidence can be found against him.

That leaves Frank in the doghouse with his boss Connellan (Noah Emmerich). What's more, Frank used to go out with Scarfo's girlfriend Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), but she angrily left him over undisclosed racial issues. Frank has also been a disappointment to his tough-guy dad Leon (James Caan), now slowly expiring from lung problems.

Finally, Frank is racked with guilt over his brother Chris (Clive Owen), a lowlife doing time in Sing Sing. When Chris is released on a work furlough, Frank finds him a job at a used-car lot.

Cleaning toilets and emptying trash cans is not for Chris, who quits after seducing the lot's secretary, Natalie (Mila Kunis). It's just a matter of time before he and his old buddy Mikey (Domenick Lombardozzi) are planning jobs together, including taking out three gangsters and a kid in a neighborhood bar.

Frank has been letting Chris stay at his apartment, but as the crimes pile up he's forced to choose between his brother and his work. When Scarfo is released from prison, he singles out Frank for revenge. Meanwhile, Frank's ex Monica (Marion Cotillard) faces serious drug and morals charges unless she rats out her former lover.

Who knew Brooklyn in 1974 was such a hotbed of suppressed lust and macho posturing? For that matter, who'd have thought brothers could be rivals? That's about as complicated as Blood Ties ever gets, leaving viewers plenty of time to admire a production design that captures the era's grungy apartments, awful clothes and muscle cars—enough of the latter to stage a lethargic chase through midtown Manhattan.

Canet and his co-writer James Gray, adapting the work of five previous writers, fill out their story with weddings, holidays, barbecues, a couple of sex scenes, and some farfetched police stakeouts, all the while staying resolutely on the surface of their incidents.

Gray's 2007 We Own the Night covered a lot of the same ground with similarly weak results. Like that movie, Blood Ties is blessed with a cast far better than the material deserves. Cotillard and Kunis find real depth in their stereotypical roles, while Emmerich and especially Lombardozzi take their characters in unexpected directions.

Unfortunately, actors can drag a script only so far. Canet, who played Crudup's role in the French original Les liens du sang, screened an even longer version of this movie at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Shortened by almost 20 minutes, Blood Ties still commits the cardinal sin of being boring.