This file begins with a promising opening scene. Jimmy (Paul Schneider) owns a restaurant in Philly, and is describing a recent proctology exam, and how the nurse recommends he relax. Michael (Joel Kinnaman of Suicide Squad) doesn’t seem all that interested in the story, as he puffs his cigarette. His cousin Peter (Matthias Schnoenaerts) is even less interested. In fact, he goes over to the roof and jumps. Now, I immediately thought it was going to be one of those things where the words “5 Days Earlier” flash across the screen, and it was refreshing that they didn’t do that. So, off we go, to a flying start.
Instead, the words on the screen read “The Sound of Philadelphia” which is odd, considering the movie is called Brothers by Blood, which is adapted from the novel Brotherly Love by former Philly newspaper columnist Pete Dexter (Paris Trout, Rush, Mulholland Falls, Michael). Upon Googling, I found out the movie is only called Brothers by Blood in America. Oy. These things are so hard to follow.
French director Jeremie Guez, who disappointed me with Yves Saint Laurent years ago, is giving us his first American film; and the tried and true technique of going back and forth with timelines, so that we learn how Peter grew up, and what he’s feeling now towards his cousin. Peter’s dad (Ryan Phillippe) is part of the Irish mob, and when his little girl is run over by a neighbor, he wants revenge. The problem is his brother tells him the neighbor, who is a cop, is also on the take from the Italian mob and can’t be touched. The angry father is having none of it, and kills him anyway (I was a bit more confused as to why the guy thinks the neighbor is at fault, when his kid ran out into the street). So you can guess where that storyline goes.
Schoenaerts has the perfect face for this character. He’s quiet, and sad. He always has that haunted look in his eyes and when we see his childhood, we understand it. What is harder to understand, is why he keeps working for his sociopath cousin. After Michael is shot and crippled by the Italians, it’s understandable that he wants revenge. What doesn’t make sense is how he goes all Joe Pesci on everyone in his orbit. For example, his race horse has to be put down, and the vet that does it…is threatened, unless he gets down on his knees and kisses the dead horse. Huh?
Another time, there’s a promising young boxer that Peter enjoys watching (he boxes and trains at the same gym). It’s a great (albeit predictable) scene when Michael wants to see just how tough the kid is, by having his muscular goon get in the ring with him. When Michael shows up another time wanting to do the same thing, it’s utterly ridiculous. At this point, we’ve questioned many times, as to why Peter is still dealing with this crap. It’s so tiring to hear characters say (or think) “Well, he’s family. What can I do?”
Perhaps Guez shouldn’t have had Schoenaerts underplay this as much as he did. All these contemplative looks just made me want to slap him, not make me sympathize with his plight.
Maika Monroe, the professional kite surfer and actress, plays that usual female character — the sister who returns to town, and is caught in the middle, and gets into a relationship with one of the guys. She’s not given a lot to do. I did find it refreshing that her love scene didn’t involve her getting naked. And the violence in this film wasn’t really shown. We’re told what has happened, or only see what leads up to it.
I was mad that it was yet another movie with a barfing scene. It’s now up to 89.3% of all movies I’ve seen over the past five years, have a character vomit. My half-Irish wife was annoyed that Mathias looks more European.
On an unrelated note, I suggest you see Mathias in The Mustang. It was one of my favorite movies last year.
This gets 2 stars out of 5.