You’ve never cheered harder for John Cusack… did I mention he plays the bad guy here?
At first glance, the story unfolding in Lucky McKee‘s new film, Blood Money, seems nearly as generic as the title. A trio of twenty-something friends come together for what they hope will be a relaxing rafting trip down a mostly lazy river, but feelings old and new bubble up to the surface. Victor (Ellar Coltrane) had his heart broken by Lynn (Willa Fitzgerald) a couple years prior, and now she’s secretly boning Jeff (Jacob Artist) on the side. The friction is already palpable, but things take a turn for the worse when Lynn finds three duffel bags filled with millions in cash.
Lynn wants to keep it all — she lost her scholarship and needs the money — and Jeff is in for whatever she wants for obvious reasons, but Victor is the voice of reason. They part ways but are brought back together when the money’s owner, Miller (John Cusack), who himself stole it, comes looking for his haul. The friends find themselves on the run, but there are bigger threats than the greedy thief dressed like “a roadie for Metallica.” There’s each other.
Blood Money is an odd film.
At its core the film is a pretty basic thriller that riffs on the first act of Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan without any of the meat that follows. Friends find cash that doesn’t belong to them, and what should have been a simple and quiet escape to a future of wealth and possibility instead crumbles beneath the weight of greed and poor decisions. All of that is packed into a single afternoon here, and the immediate result is a lightweight genre effort destined to be far less memorable than McKee’s May or The Woman.
Dig a little bit deeper, though, and there are some intriguing ideas beneath the generic surface. Miller is presented at first as the real threat — a determined thief intent on keeping his spoils — but he’s quickly left in awe of how dirty his intended victims are willing to play. They’re a far bigger threat to each other than he could possibly be, and it’s fun to watch the “bad guy’s” bewilderment to it all.
Equally compelling is the subtext (and text) of Lynn’s role among her friends and in the story. She’s no damsel in distress and is instead more than capable of taking care of herself, and amid all of the carnage and backstabbing she takes an aggressive stance on the dynamic between her, Victor, and Jeff. As an argument for the woman she’s become, Lynn points out how the three had been best friends — until puberty hit, she grew boobs, and the boys began to not-so subtly fight over her like a prize. It’s a biting and incisive commentary, and while the film doesn’t explore it beyond its character motivation it’s still far more insight than most thrillers achieve.
Performances are a mixed bag — as with every film he’s in Coltrane remains the least accomplished performer, but he’s never been better than he is here — with Fitzgerald doing strong work as a young woman who flat out refuses to fit a mold or be nothing more than some man’s victory. Cusack stands apart from the bunch with a turn guaranteed to be labeled lazy, but it’s actually his most interesting in years as he brings humor to the role and film in the form of a bad guy whose singular crime to this point was an elaborate theft of millions of dollars. Chasing down young people and threatening their lives is well beyond his scope, and Cusack portrays that lopsided villainy well. It’s impossible not to cheer for him throughout this ordeal — he spends half the film just wanting a goddamn cigarette — even at the expense of the supposed protagonists.
Blood Money isn’t being advertised as a McKee film, but while it’s worlds removed from his deeper, more genre-oriented fare it still finds strength and darkness in the woman at its center. She’s not quite the anti-hero of the piece, but she’s not without sympathy.