Friday, January 02, 2015
"Blood Ties": French crime story, transposed to gangster territory in NYC, examines the morality of family loyalty
“Blood Ties” (2013) is a somewhat routine police drama, set in New York in the 1970s, from French director Guillaume Canet, that probes moral points about “loyalty to blood” (as it was put in one episode of “Jake 2.0”). It’s a remake of “Les liens du sang” by Jacques Maillot (2008), based on the book “Deux freres: flic et truand” (“Two Brothers: Cop and Ugly”) by Bruno and Michel Papet. It assembles an all-star cast, but it has a tradition of more intense films in this genre to surpass.
Billy Crudup plays young cop Frank Pierzynski. His older brother Chris (Clive Owen) has just gotten out of prison for manslaughter for what may have been justifiable self-defense (but not in New York). The older brother tries to “go straight” and moves in with Frank, which actually gets the ire of his boss in NYPD. Chris, however, drifts back into crime, despite trying to set up a “legitimate” waterfront business. Dad (James Caan) wants them to get along but is deteriorating in health rapidly.
A complication occurs as Frank arrests another mobster, Anthony Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts) married to Frank’s ex girlfriend (Zoe Saldana). As the movie drives toward a conclusion (with a very graphic gun battle at one point, rivaling the “Godfather” franchise), an irony develops: Chris discovers Anthony’s plot against his brother but must risk prison again to save his brother.
There plot examines the question, of when family or tribal loyalty (to others as people) trumps “doing the right thing” in the sense of one’s own individual relation with the rest of “the world.”
Late in the film, a neighbor says that Chris took him in as a “brother” and protected him from bullies.
Owen looks and acts atypical for most his roles. His arms are shaved for tattoos. Early in the film, Frank makes a curious reference to the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). There is a small subplot involving underage girls.
I lived in NYC from 1974-1978 in lower Manhattan, and the film does look authentic for the time. Frank's mustache was a popular fad at the time, almost forgotten today.
The official site is here (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions).
The film can be rented on YouTube for $4.99. I watched from a Netflix DVD.