×

Cannes Film Review: ‘Blood Ties’

Guillaume Canet's English-language remake of 'Les Liens du sang' is a sluggish, dramatically undernourished saga with limited audience appeal.

With:
Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts, James Caan, Noah Emmerich, Lili Taylor, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Ventimiglia, Griffin Dunne, Jamie Hector, Yul Vasquez. (English dialogue)

After transposing an American detective novel to France for his hit directorial debut, “Tell No One,” thesp-helmer-scribe Gullaume Canet inverts the equation for “Blood Ties,” which adapts French director Jacques Maillot’s 2008 crime drama “Les Liens du sang” to the 1970s New York of “The French Connection” and “Serpico” fame. Result is a sluggish, dramatically undernourished saga that somehow manages to exceed the original pic’s running time by 40 minutes without adding anything appreciable to the story or characters. Canet’s name plus a starry ensemble cast (including Mrs. Canet, Marion Cotillard) should ensure reasonably brisk world sales, though the pic’s excessive length and dour tone will limit audience appeal — especially in North America, where “Tell No One” racked up an impressive $6.1 million.

Based on a roman a clef by authors Michel and Bruno Papet, Maillot’s film (also set in the 1970s) starred Canet as a Lyonnais police officer thrust back into the life of his criminal brother (François Cluzet) when the latter is released after a lengthy prison sentence. Scripted by Canet and James Gray (whose 2007 “We Own the Night” also featured siblings on opposite sides of the law), the new pic hews rather closely to the events of the first, until a Grand Central Station climax that significantly alters the fate of one major character.

Opening scenes show Brooklyn cop Franck (Billy Crudup) and sister Marie (Lili Taylor) collecting their newly paroled brother Chris (Clive Owen, looking suitably paunchy and disheveled), free after serving nine years on a murder conviction. It’s a bittersweet reunion, stepped in long-simmering resentments, among them Chris’ beef that Franck never visited him in jail. Still, Chris seems to make a concerted effort to go straight, taking a job at a local garage and trying to patch things up with his drug-addled wife (Cotillard), teenage son and younger daughter. But before long, Chris’ volatile temper gets the better of him at work, while a subsequent attempt starting a legit business — a hot-dog stand in Prospect Park — literally goes up in smoke.

Viewers familiar with Canet primarily from “Tell No One” (his subsequent ensemble dramedy, “Little White Lies,” was a hit in France but didn’t travel as far offshore) may be surprised to find that “Blood Ties” offers little conventional thriller architecture, or action on par with “Tell No One’s” celebrated highway foot chase. Instead, the pic is fundamentally a family melodrama, detailing the various compromising positions in which the characters find themselves until something — or someone — has to give. While Chris begins courting a shy, lonely office girl (Mila Kunis) from the garage, Franck takes up with ex-flame Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), whose vengeful husband (“Rust and Bone” star Matthias Schoenaerts, in one of the pic’s livelier perfs) has just been arrested by Franck on a weapons charge. Meanwhile, Chris’ gradual return to the criminal underworld — beginning with a brazen contract hit  —threatens to derail Franck’s rising police career.

Though Maillot’s film suffered from similar overplotting (and even included a couple of additional characters), it nevertheless managed to make all the intrigue more involving, whereas here the tension rarely rises above a low boil. In what feels like a strained effort at seriousness, Canet distends many scenes with long pauses and pregnant glances on either side of the action — upwards of 20 minutes could be cut without losing a single line of dialogue — and has everyone deliver their lines in a breathy whisper, as if Chris and Franck’s ailing paterfamilias (James Caan) weren’t the only one missing a lung. And, where the original film’s Canet and Cluzet were effortless in their brotherly bond, Owen and Crudup don’t seem so much estranged as outright strangers. Even the usually unimpeachable Cotillard is oddly adrift here, struggling with an unidentifiable foreign accent whose origins (eventually revealed as Italian) generate more suspense than pretty much anything else in the movie. The rest of the mixed Yank/Euro cast speak Brooklynese with varying degrees of success.

Most of Canet’s filmmaking energies seem to have gone into affecting a convincing period feel, from the plethora of wide-body sedans in varying shades of rust to the finely cultivated sideburns and mustaches and a double album’s worth of choice soul and rock tunes. Lenser Christophe Offenstein’s suitably grimy, washed-out color palette and production designer Ford Wheeler’s nicely aged sets similarly contribute to an authentic, pre-gentrification vibe.

Cannes Film Review: 'Blood Ties'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (noncompeting), May 19, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 142 MIN.

Production: (France) A Mars Distribution release of a Les Prods. du Tresor, Worldview Entertainment, Caneo Films, Mars Films, Wild Bunch, Le Grisbi Prods., France 2 Cinema, Chi-Fou-Mi Productions, LGM Cinema, Treasure Co. production with the contribution of Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions, M6, France 4, W9 in association with Wild Bunch. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Alain Attal, Guillaume Canet, Hugo Selignac, Christopher Woodrow, John Lesher. Executive producers, Kerry Orent, Chris Goode, James Gray, Vincent Maraval, Molly Conners, Sarah Johnson Redlich, Maria Cestone, Hoyt David Morgan. 

Crew: Directed by Guillaume Canet. Screenplay, Canet, James Gray, based on the screenplay “Les Liens du sang” by Jaques Maillot, Pierre Chosson, Eric Veniard and the novel “Deux Freres, un flic, un truand” by Michel and Bruno Papet. Camera (Technicolor, widescreen, Arri Alexa digital), Christophe Offenstein; editor, Herve De Luze; music, Yodelice; music supervisor, Raphael Hamburger; production designer, Ford Wheeler; art director, Henry Dunn; set decorators, Heather Loeffler, Cherish M. Hale; costume designer, Michael Clancy; sound (Dolby Digital), Michael Barosky; re-recording mixers, Tom Johnson, Vincent Cosson; visual effects, CGEV; stunt coordinator, Roy Farfel; associate producers, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Cyril Colbeau-Justin; assistant director, Mathias Honore; casting, Avy Kaufman.

With: Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts, James Caan, Noah Emmerich, Lili Taylor, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Ventimiglia, Griffin Dunne, Jamie Hector, Yul Vasquez. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Don Edkins, documentary filmmaker

    Documentary Filmmaker Don Edkins on ‘Creating an African Voice’ 

    DURBAN–For the 10th Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, a new strand was created to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing documentary filmmakers in Africa. The two-day program, Durban Does Docs, offers a series of conversations, seminars and workshops with an intensive focus on the aesthetics, funding, distribution [...]

  • A Faithful Man

    Film Review: 'A Faithful Man'

    French actor Louis Garrel has been married twice, first to Iranian talent Golshifteh Farahani, and now to model-cum-actress Laetitia Casta. He has also directed two features, the first a free-wheeling love-triangle comedy called “Two Friends” in which Garrel plays the cad who comes between his best friend and the object of his obsession (played by [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Russ Tamblyn's Career Had Legs After Childhood

    With an acting career that spans work for Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Losey to Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Russ Tamblyn’s creativity and longevity is proof that there’s life after child stardom. In Tamblyn’s case, there’s also been a bounty of juicy film and TV roles long after his legendary legs no longer kicked [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Booksmart Director

    Film News Roundup: Olivia Wilde to Direct Holiday Comedy for Universal

    In today’s film news roundup, Olivia Wilde has landed another directing gig following “Booksmart” and revenge thriller “Seaside” and “Woodstock: The Directors Cut” get August release dates. PROJECT LAUNCH Olivia Wilde will direct and produce an untitled holiday comedy project for Universal Pictures with her “Booksmart” partner Katie Silberman. Universal outbid five other studios for [...]

  • Choas Charles Mansion and the CIA

    Amazon Studios Takes Film Rights to Manson-Centered Drama 'Chaos' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the grisly murders executed by the followers of Charles Manson, Amazon Studios has optioned film rights to a nonfiction title about a journalist who spent decades obsessively following the case. The studio will adapt “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” from [...]

  • Sword of Trust

    Marc Maron on 'Sword of Trust,' Lynn Shelton and Conspiracy Theories

    Marc Maron has interviewed everyone from Bruce Springsteen to President Obama, so he’s probably learned a few things about being a good interview. Of course, as he points out, he generally has over an hour to talk leisurely speak with his guests in his home and draw out stories beyond the public narrative; it’s a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content