Crime-related dramas usually do one of two things well. They’re either interested solely in the mystery itself, or they’re more focused on the characters and their journey into darkness. In rare cases, like David Fincher’s Zodiac or Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, a movie can nail both halves with equal skill and effect.
Blood takes the second path, eschewing any real mystery or suspense to focus on two brothers, both in blood and in blue, whose investigation into a teenage girl’s murder leads to a crime of their own. They’re soon tasked with solving the very crime they committed, and as the pressure to close the case mounts the fragility of the two men’s lives begins to crack.
Unfortunately they crack and crumble in the ways viewers will most likely expect.
“When it stops hurting, get out.”
Joe Fairburn (Paul Bettany) and his unfortunately named brother Chrissie (Stephen Graham) are homicide detectives whose latest case involves a teenage girl found brutally assaulted, murdered and dumped at a skate park. They quickly latch onto their prime suspect, an ex con named Jason (Ben Crompton, who looks remarkably like Ben Foster), who is known to have an unhealthy affection for young girls. A lack of evidence leads to his release, but words and tales from the brothers’ legendary ex-cop father (Brian Cox) spur them to act slightly outside the law in their pursuit of a confession.
And by ‘slightly’ I mean ‘quite a bit.’
Director Nick Murphy’s second film (after the atmospheric ghost story, The Awakening) doesn’t break any new ground in its setup as films about corrupt policemen are fairly commonplace, but it suffers by maintaining that lack of creativity through much of its run time. The brothers’ crime is cliched but necessary for the plot, but it’s what comes next that feels predictable and lacking in energy. Bill Gallagher’s script sets about focusing on how the two men handle guilt, something neither of them can quite get a handle on, but their spirals are made less interesting by the lack of character work done beforehand. We know little about them and see less of them outside of the job, and when it comes time for them to struggle beneath the weight of their action and its consequences they don’t have far to fall in our eyes.
There are minor character touches that work, from Joe’s dealings with his own teenage daughter’s love life to Chrissie’s relationship status, and their father’s Alzheimers is used to tantalizing effect as well including in scenes where he wanders into the station fired up and ready to work a job he left many years ago. It’s his brain-addled egging that pushes his sons to act, and you can see how the fearsome power that once resided in the old man’s eyes is still capable of lighting fires.
The film looks good thanks to a real sense of time and place and some effective cinematography, but it’s the cast that ultimately makes the film worth watching. Bettany and Graham show engaging chemistry and seem to feed off each other’s levels of emotion. Like their characters, they each handle the guilt and pressure in different ways, and both actors do the best with what they’re given. Cox is good as well even in his limited role, and as mentioned above he does great work playing the shadow of a man while still offering a glimpse of who and what that man was. One of the film’s rare, pleasant surprises is a supporting turn by Mark Strong that sees him as a fellow detective who begins to suspect something foul within the ranks. The briefest tease of his character’s life offers up the film’s most interesting element to the point that you may find yourself wishing the story would shift entirely towards him.
Some of the necessary pieces are present in Blood, from the cast to the film’s look and style, but too much of the rest of it is as lifeless as the teenage girl’s corpse that begins the film. Narrative events tick by like stops on a train schedule, each one fully expected and understood, and there’s little sense of wonder or excitement as the story heads towards its final destination. Still, it’s a scenic ride that stays on track instead of crashing and burning, and that’s got to be worth something.
The Upside: Several emotionally strong performances; looks good; some nice with Jason’s character post-incident
The Downside: Character arcs are expected; dramatic expectations flat-line between second and third acts
On the Side: The film is also known as Conviction.
Blood is currently playing in limited theatrical release.