Brothers by Blood
by Hope Madden
It can be tough to find a fresh way to tell a mob story. Brothers by Blood doesn’t bother.
Director Jeremie Guez’s film, based on his own adaptation of Peter Dexter’s novel Brotherly Love, offers an intimate look at masculinity, loyalty, faith and redemption through the eyes of two men who are as close as brothers. They’re part of the criminal underground, and one (the brooding, quiet, good one) is worried that the other (the loose cannon) may have gone too far.
Like Mean Streets. Like The Drop. Eastern Promises, Casino, Legend.
Like a lot of movies.
Luckily, Guez has a strong cast with the potential of finding something uniquely human in these characters.
Matthias Schoenaerts is the quietly observant Peter, a reasonable man who isn’t proud of what he does but he keeps his head down, his mouth shut, and does the work. Michael (Joel Kinnaman), on the other hand, likes attention. He likes power and respect, and he’s quite sure he isn’t getting enough of either.
Kinnaman brings a weaselly quality to Michael that suits him. His best scenes showcase a level of insincere congeniality that really is sometimes chilling. Meanwhile Schoenaerts—a truly talented actor able to disappear into characters—is hamstrung by a role that requires little more than disappointed headshakes, askew glances and sighs.
The surrounding ensemble offers opportunities as well. Paul Schneider (nice to see you!) carves out a little authenticity as Jimmy, a restauranteur in over his head. Maika Monroe plays Jimmy’s kid sister Grace. They all grew up together—Jimmy, Michael, Peter and Grace—and now Grace has come back home.
Monroe, by the way, is fully twenty years younger than her co-stars, which makes the prospect of a love scene the single creepiest aspect of this film.
Talent be damned, Guez can’t find an original thought to explore. Everything about Brothers by Blood feels absolutely garden variety, although competently made. Except for the obligatory flashbacks, which are wedged in so poorly you almost overlook the fairly decent acting going on in them.
Mean Streets is $2.99 on Prime right now, by the way.