A quartet of justly regarded British actors elevates Nick Murphy’s sophomore feature “Blood,” but only to the level of superior TV fare. World-preeming at the London Film Festival, this quality crimer lacks the pulse-racing peril that might seal the deal with thriller aficionados, and the title turns out to be more about the family ties that bind than rivulets of red. Falling somewhere between arthouse and mainstream, commercial prospects look little better than Murphy’s 2011 debut, “The Awakening.”
In an unnamed English coastal town, the Fairburn brothers, Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie (Stephen Graham), grew up listening to the embellished tales of aggressive interrogation practiced by their police-chief father Lenny (Brian Cox). The old man is now retired, although, suffering from dementia, he doesn’t always remember that fact, and his sons, both police detectives, still toil in the shadow of his fearsome reputation. Elder brother Joe is haunted by the case of a rapist who subsequently murdered his victim after he was released without charge.
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The pic begins with the discovery of a 12-year-old girl, fatally stabbed and left in a park. Joe quickly fingers local offender Jason Buleigh (Ben Crompton) as the likely suspect, and several clues point convincingly to his guilt. But when this evidently tortured soul fails to crack in the police interrogation room, a frustrated Joe, fueled with alcohol, takes matters into his own hands, assisted as always by the subservient Chrissie.
While the film quickly ties up the loose ends of the murdered girl, extracting a confession from one of the actual perpetrators, screenwriter Bill Gallagher finds his real interest in the complex relationships and motivations of the Fairburn men and fellow detective Robert Seymoore (Mark Strong). If Seymoore’s natty clothes were not already sufficient to denote his outsider status, various Fairburns are on hand to remind us he is not one of the boys, too quiet, a loner and therefore not to be trusted.
Female characters, including Joe’s wife Lily (Natasha Little), his 15-year-old daughter Miriam (Naomi Battrick) and Chrissie’s long-suffering g.f. Jemma (Zoe Tapper) are more briefly glimpsed, and could have been successfully fleshed out in the TV series that “Blood” so obviously cries out to be. A more democratic treatment would have decreased the reliance on a protagonist it becomes increasingly hard to care about, a wounded animal whose defense mechanism is always to attack.
It’s no great surprise to learn, in the closing credits, about the film’s smallscreen origins: the Fairburn policing family previously featured in Gallagher’s 2004 six-parter “Conviction.” Tech contributions are solid, with a particularly resonant use of whistling wind rippling through coastal grasses and over wet sand. Location shooting in wintry Wirrall, Merseyside, adds to the mood of chilly English desolation.