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Non-Review Review: Blood (2013)

Blood feels a little too familiar on times, verging on cliché. Director Nick Murphy crafts a rich and atmospheric take on a story we’ve seen quite often before. A story of brothers keeping a dark secret, of the way that the islands off the coast of Britain seem to operate under their own law, of the way that guilt and secrets eat us from the inside out. It looks and sounds impressive, with the cast delivering powerhouse performances, George Richmond’s cinematography evoking a harsh wasteland where rules seem looser and myth intermingles with fact, and Daniel Pemberton’s score setting a suitably ominous note.

I wanna take you to the island...

I wanna take you to the island…

Perhaps the weirdest and most unconventional part of Blood is the decision to cast Stephen Graham and Paul Bettany as brothers. Both do wonderful work in roles that seem just a little bit too trite, a little too rote. However, it’s very strange to imagine a world where Graham and Bettany could be brothers. Then again, Blood is set out on the islands off the British coast, where it seems like everybody is related if you stretch back far enough.

As Bettany’s copper struggles to remember if he’s setting up a fellow officer with his wife’s sister or merely half-sister, you get a sense that you’re lucky if there are two degrees of separation between anybody living out here in these harsh and weathered surroundings. These little islands are part of the cinematic landscape of Britain, as much as the desert or New England is an expansive part of the cinematic geography of the United States.

You do make a bloody mess...

You do make a bloody mess…

Civilisation extends outwards from the mainland, but the connections are weak. The rules are different out here. It’s more than a small bit of ocean which serves to separate these little communities from the rest of the country. Brian Cox plays the father of our two main characters, and he’s full of stories about island justice. Unrestricted by the chains of due process, the island had its own way of dealing with criminals and miscreants. Stories of brutal beatings on anonymous beaches, with the strong island wind serving to blow away any sense of impropriety and the lapping waves as the only witnesses.

It’s quite clear from early on where Blood is going. There has been a brutal murder of a young girl on the island. Joe and Chrissie Fairburn work the case, trying to determine who is responsible. From the opening scenes, there are no real surprises in how the movie plays out. Indeed, the movie is occasionally quite frustrating in its unwillingness to branch off in any direction which might be remotely surprising.

Dad's boys...

Dad’s boys…

This isn’t all bad. There’s a reason that so many of the themes of guilt and responsibility are tackled so frequently by films like this. And having a solid cast is enough to excuse falling back on these familiar ideas. However, the script to Blood leans a little too heavily on cliché at times. Having arrested a suspect who seems a suspiciously perfect fit for the crime, they discover that they might not be able to bring the matter to trial. “It’s how we have to do things now,” a supporting character remarks, stopping just short of assuring the leads that, in this department, “they go by the book.”

There are quite a few moments like that in the film, as the screenplay for Blood follows the path of least resistance. It’s never subtle or nuanced, often explicitly articulating its themes and ideas. The characters never seem to leap off the screen, often articulating things that don’t need to be said in the most awkward of fashions. We understand that Mark Strong’s Robert Seymour is somewhat isolated from his colleagues and something of a mentor figure. We don’t need Joe Fairburn to call him “loner” and “Obi-wan” to get that.

The police force is Strong with this one...

The police force is Strong with this one…

To be fair, the production tries to compensate for the weaknesses in an over-written and under-developed screenplay. Nick Murphy has a keen grasp of atmosphere. His depiction of life on the island feels almost haunting, creating a very strong sense of place. Blood is often beautifully shot, creating the impression of an isolated and eerily beautiful community which tends to close in around its own. The score is evocative and menacing.

Paul Bettany makes a solid lead. Joe Fairburn is hardly the most nuanced of characters, and Bettany isn’t given the best material, but his portrayal of a broken man haunted by guilt is quite striking. Similarly, Stephen Graham fleshes out the under-developed Chrissie, giving the movie something of a sympathetic core. Mark Strong is suitably stoic as the officer who starts gently pulling at the exposed strings on a fairly ineffective cover-up. Brian Cox lends the movie some weight as Joe and Chrissie’s father.

A Chrissie of conscience...

A Chrissie of conscience…

Blood isn’t a classic. The script is quite weak, and the film offers the rough outline of a story that could have been much more compelling. On the other hand, there is a lot of talent on display here, and it is a very well-made mediocre film.

Blood is on video-on-demand from Friday 31st May 2013.


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