There still seems to be a fascination with cop films set in the 1970s and/or in New York City that goes on decades after the actual era, but I think that in Blood Ties there were certainly interesting ingredients that drew people to it. It had some familiar names; a screening at Cannes yet came and went with barely a whimper. And I was aware of some of the names past those above the title so its underachievement was curious to me.
The film was a remake of the 2008 French film Les liens du sang, and both it and Blood Ties were inspired by the Bruno and Michel Papet novel "Deux freres, un flic, un truand". It was adapted into a screenplay and directed by Guillaume Canet (Tell No One). Blood Ties looks at two brothers in 1974 New York. Older brother Chris (Clive Owen, Duplicity) is released from jail on a furlough but into the care of his younger brother Frank (Billy Crudup, Watchmen), who works as a policeman in the city. Their sister Marie (Lili Taylor, The Conjuring) and ailing father Leon (James Caan, Elf) are happy to have the family together, and Chris even starts work at an auto shop. He sees his ex-wife Monica (Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone) after he is released, but he manages to fall in love with Natalie (Mila Kunis, The Conjuring), who works at the shop. When Chris gets an offer to return to his criminal past, is strains the relationship on everyone around, with Frank being the most affected.
I think that Blood Ties does a good job at examining "vintage" New York through Canet's eyes, and there is a certain sense of romanticism to it. But the problem with the film and it is one that is pervasive through the film is that it tends to have its cinematic eyes are too big for its stomach, in this case the latter being the story. The film is an expansive two hours and gets you involved in several different angles of the family. Frank tries to process his feelings about Chris' release with Vanessa (Zoe Saldana, Avatar), a single mother whose baby daddy Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts, Bullhead), is in jail. And smaller storylines such as this lack any real reason to care about these characters, and their place in a poorly constructed third act is not only predictable but lazy.
In the smaller moments, Blood Ties seems to alternate between being preoccupied with the fact that it is 1974 in the story (with not one but two different scenes where a needle drops on a record) and packing in a lot of scenes that are less signal and more noise, with little in the way of any payoff, satisfaction or what have you. The Saldana and Schoenaerts characters are not the only ones that suffer such fates in the films, there are others whose place leaves the viewer wondering what it is they are doing there. At a basic level, there is little investment the viewer has to make between choosing a side between Chris and Frank because Frank is vaguely sympathetic and Chris is a bit of a shit brother.
Generally, the ensemble's collective performance is unspectacular. Crudup is decent but again, there is not much that makes him wholly sympathetic (or remotely for that matter). Apparently as I learn in the supplements there had to be a certain level of Europeans or those that held work permits for the film to receive financing. Thus, we get to see Owen and Cotillard attempt accents. Owen's LonGisland one is not bad, but Cotillard's was weird. It took me a sonic to realize a French woman was playing an Italian prostitute in New York City, but what are you going to do. And despite his use in the film, Schoenaerts quietly does good work as a bit of a Guido type in Scarfo. He continues to impress as an actor and I hope subsequent films use his talents better than what Blood Ties does.
Having seen a few films set in the ‘70s and in the metropolitan city of New York, my concern was less about the setting and one of anticipation of what this ensemble was going to bring to the feature. What I got was disappointing and squandered so many people (there are one or two other recognizable faces that are bit players in the film) and a story that hardly felt inspired and had no resonance to speak of. Blood Ties could have been good, but it was barely average and that is the shame of it all.
Lionsgate gives Blood Ties an AVC encode for its 2.40:1 widescreen high-definition presentation, with the results being agreeable. There does seem to be some sort of color correction done for the film, but the result looks fine nonetheless. Image detail is ample for most of the film and film grain is present during viewing. The colors of the ‘70s are replicated faithfully be it greens and browns of furniture, and in a scene where Chris is getting married, the cheap burgundy suit looks kitschy and natural without saturation. It is a solid transfer for the film.
DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround for the film which, given the ample use of ‘70s rock is a good thing. But more importantly, those responsible for the score of Blood Ties created a guitar forward soundtrack that would make Schifrin proud. In quieter moments, the dialogue is consistent and well-balanced and in the inevitable chase sequences, gunfire is natural and placed nicely in the rear channels, and though the soundstage lacks a bit of ‘oomph' in the low-end, comes across and fairly robust. Good listening material for sure.
The only extra which is not an Ultraviolet copy of the film is a Behind the Scenes look at it, and it is a pretty good one (26:22). Canet discusses the difficulty of filming in America despite having a French-speaking production crew, while the cast talk about the characters they play. A camera follows Canet during the preproduction and production, and looks at big moments in the film like the chase and robbery scenes. That it looks at things from a seemingly different angle is to its credit I think (and of note, Cotillard's brother Guillaume filmed it). But past that and the Ultraviolet? Nothing else.
There are quite a few people in Blood Ties and you would presume that something compelling would come from it. Yet with a cast and a setting that could very easily have come from Sidney Lumet, we get something that is closer to Sidney Freedman. Technically, it is a solid release and while the behind the scenes look is good, some more would have been appreciated to see more on the production itself. Sadly, worth a rental at best.