With all the big loud superhero flicks at the cinema right now, it seems a bit old fashioned to sit at home and watch a couple quiet indie dramas. That’s what I did this weekend, resisting the summer sizzle and instead reaching for something with a little more subtlety and grace. Here are fresh takes on Blood Ties and Joe, both currently available on demand and possibly on Redbox.
The first effort from director/actor Guillaume Canet is a dark gritty crime drama set in the 1970’s and pitting two brothers(Clive Owen and Billy Crudup) standing on opposite sides of the law. Owen is Chris, a ex-con who just stepped out of jail after a 12 year stint for murder. Crudup is Frank, a noble cop who desperately wants to keep his brother out of jail and trouble. The women lurking around their lives, Marion Cotillard and Zoe Saldana, begin to play pivotal roles in their future. James Caan nearly steals the film as the two men’s father and Matthias Schoenaerts(Rust and Bone) turns in solid work as the worst kind of men. All the pieces come together in an unpredictable fashion in Canet’s film, which makes for a powerful experience. One can see why it didn’t get a wide release but the story was made for a home setting. Owen and Crudup are at the top of their game here, sparring off as siblings who have walked completely different lives while remaining close to home.
Owen puts a coat of Brooklyn on his well traveled British accent and Cotillard does her best with a role that many will call different but I call challenging and fresh. She is an actress that can easily go to dark places but here touches new ground. Caan shows that he still has the power to take over a film at his old age, playing an old lion staring at his two sons battling over psychological turf. The movie isn’t great and runs a little long. A big shootout occurs just over halfway in and throws the film into a completely new story that never sits right. Things happen that don’t make any sense while others come together too cozy. All is made right in the end when a delicious little twist sets(remember to knock) the film up for a final clash at a train station that is deft and perfect. Canet co-wrote the script with long time crime film artist James Gray(The Yards, We Own the Night) and you can smell Gray’s strokes all over the film, from the loud and brutally realistic gunfire to the romantic moments of the film. Blood Ties is solid cinema worth checking out at home.
The film starts out conveniently as we are introduced to Nic Cage’s Joe, the leader of a landscaping crew wiping out trees for a new housing development. His men respect him and they have a good working relationship. We are also introduced to a kid who has an abusive dad and his ongoing misery. Joe and the Kid will merge together in a way that is at once predictable, unique and deadly. There is more to Joe than a simple life and the kid is going to stir things up inside him that the older man thought he had buried. I won’t spoil any more of David Gordon Green’s latest film, a down and dirty drama about redemption, choices and the devil in all of us.
Cage reminds you once again that he is an Oscar worthy talent when he decides to be. He easily inhabits the cold tragic skin of Joe and injects his quirky wildness into a well rounded performance that resonates. Tye Sheridan played this sort of role well in Mud and takes it up a notch here with his character, Gary. Gary and Joe become friends and things start to happen. One thing that is constant in every Green film(except for the hilarious Pineapple Express) is a sense of dread that sits with every scene. The idea that something bad is going to happen floats through this film. The entire film as a whole doesn’t work completely work but there are fair portions of it that are beautifully filmed and acted. One of the highlights is Gary Ponlter, a homeless man Green hired off the street(the director does this a lot) to play Gary’s despicable father, Wade. He steals every scene he is in and does it with barely any dialogue. Poulter’s broken trash face sums up the type of world Green’s films live in. Poulter died a few weeks after filming concluded and his role in the film is powerful, disgusting and bittersweet at the same time. Joe isn’t a great film and the plot will drift from your memory, but the lingering morals of its characters and the struggle we all endure every single day will stick with you for a little while. The acting in it alone warrants it a viewing.
Thanks for digesting this latest dose. Come back for another.