Family violence, brother against brother, crime, redemption, futility, and escape--Blood Ties is a film that treads familiar ground, yet with another sensibility to it. A remake of a French film, and directed by the French Guillaume Canet, Family Ties evokes 70s America and cinema, while also channeling foreign influences of narrative, with an encompassing, wide-angle story. It's a sort of Heat meets We Own the Night, meets the numerous other cop/brother movies, yet with its own unique perspective.
To say that Blood Ties has some clichés is an understatement. It hits on a number of familiar beats, the evasive father, the troubled brother, the disillusioned "right-path" son, and ubiquitous temptation. Yet Blood Ties never revels in these, and doesn't rely on them to tell the story. The brothers, for example, are not simply mirror images of each other with different paths, but are juxtaposed to create a rather interesting view of masculinity. We see the tough, confident, and yet seemingly callous Chris (Clive Owen), with the sensitive, affable, and yet strong willed Frank (Billy Crudup). It's here that the film gets interesting, as it never forces a grand change of personality for either character, yet explores their dynamics in a very real, authentic way. Frank, for example, can never be described as weak or cowardly, his reluctance toward violence comes from strength, from determination, and from perseverance. So, too, does Chris's hard exterior, which is simply an outgrowth of his upbringing, but one that, channeled the right way, can show a deep amount of love and compassion.
Clive Owen's performance is certainly the most standout, but there's also some good supporting work, especially from the female cast. Here, too, the film departs from form. Instead of showing vulnerability and neediness, the women characters in Blood Ties are, though certainly flawed, strong willed and motivated of their own volition. In this way, the film gives strong characterizations to its entire cast, which helps in its rather expansive view. This view sets out to take on the entire family, showing the stark dichotomy of the family on the surface, yet the resounding similarities beneath the surface. This ambition, however, does get the film in to trouble. There's almost too much to tackle. The film tries to utilize childhood flashbacks, which are clunky, and never quite earns all of the notes that it tries to hit. The father issues, for example, are never explored, nor why Chris would take the path he did. There's an animosity beneath the surface that is never fully unearthed. This ambition also results in a number of tonal shifts, with the film trying to balance too much. The most stark problem I had with the film was the last act, in which the film gave in to melodrama than the more mature sensibilities it showed previously.
An overall often impressive, yet flawed piece.