Brothers by Blood

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Brothers by Blood
dir-scr Jeremie Guez
prd Aimee Buidine, Julien Madons, Jeremie Guez, Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa
with Matthias Schoenaerts, Joel Kinnaman, Maika Monroe, Paul Schneider, Ryan Phillippe, Nicholas Crovetti, Felix Scott, James Nelson-Joyce, Antoni Corone, Carlos Schram, Tarek Hamite, Tim Ahern
release US 22.Jan.21
20/US 1h30

monroe schneider phillippe

Is it streaming?

schoenaerts and kinnaman
Gritty but engagingly introspective, this dark drama centres on a group of growly men whose lives are entwined with organised crime. French filmmaker Jeremie Guez keeps things tense and dense, filling the screen with harsh conversations, strained relationships and brutal attitudes. It's a relentlessly downbeat film, although there are a few moments of tenderness along the way, including a nicely tentative but rather sad romance.
In Philadelphia, Peter (Schoenaerts) works as a "roofer" with his Irish mobster cousin Michael (Kinnaman), dealing daily with various political pressures and bursts of violence from the Italians. And as Michael's power grows, things are getting increasingly dangerous. For solace, Peter turns to bartender Grace (Monroe), sister of their colourful lifelong friend Jimmy (Schneider), who borrowed money from Michael to start a restaurant and is now in trouble himself. To calm things down, Peter goes to speak to unflinching Italian boss Bono (Corone), but this only pushes him into a new corner.
The film flickers to Peter's childhood (then Crovetti), when his father Charly (Phillippe) was consumed by anger and grief after a tragedy. Charly's relationship with his thuggish brother Phil (Scott) echoes Peter and Michael's connection in the present. So as gang warfare escalates, the past and present merge in Peter's mind, and he finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the violence. Guez keeps the film's tone relentlessly downbeat, moving from one grim situation to the next. But layers of complexity around Peter keep it involving.

Schoenaerts gives another thoughtful performance as a burly man with a tortured soul. He's great at keeping these kinds of characters unpredictable as they struggle to deal with the awful people around them, including their nearest and dearest. His interaction with Kinnaman's superbly bullheaded Michael is underscored with both warmth and anger. And where they go is tinged with very bleak emotions. Other characters remain peripheral, although Monroe has some strong scenes of her own.

It's not easy to identify with the tit-for-tat murder and mayhem, but the strong bonds between family members resonates, even if some of the characters betray those close to them. This gives the film a sharp sense of weariness about the pointlessness of all of this, which also leaves it without anything particularly new to say. It also becomes clear that the story isn't heading for a happy ending. Although perhaps in its own grisly way, the film does offer a glimmer of hope that there may be a way out of this murderous cycle.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Jan.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall