Much like Nick Murphy’s first film, The Awakening, Blood is a beautifully shot piece of work and packed to the brim with skilled actors, yet it is Bill Gallagher’s TV-lite screenplay – unsurprising given his career as a TV writer – which bogs this corrupt cop flick down in risible clichés and wobbly drama.
Joe Fairburn (Paul Bettany) is a dedicated, skilled detective who works alongside his brother, Chrissie (Stephen Graham), as they are saddled with investigating the brutal murder of a young girl while weathering familial toils, specifically their overbearing, Alzheimer’s-afflicted father and former Chief of Police, Lenny (Brian Cox).
While Murphy has assembled a strong cast, Blood is too gainfully invested in its generic breadcrumb-following, painfully reminiscent of too many rote BBC police procedurals. Keenly skipping over the emotional beats – notably a potentially wrenching scene in which the mother is informed that her daughter is dead – Murphy makes a fast B-line to the visceral touchstones, which largely consist of yawn-inducing personal demons.
Take Bettany’s Fairburn; an alcoholic divorcee who violently assaults his daughter’s boyfriend; so front-loaded are these concerns that the result is unintentional humour rather than bracing intensity. One particularly mis-utilised character is Cox’s Lenny; he knows far too much about his sons’ corruption, and nearly gives the game way in a restaurant full of cops, but it is resolutely more comic than suspenseful.
While there are echoes of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and FX’s The Shield here and there, the lack of psychological credulity undermines Bettany’s performance in particular; the various tics feel random rather than exact, which is tragic given how much they should inform and drive the drama here. Meanwhile, the Exterior familial drama, such as Chrissie dealing with his fiancée, is shameless padding, useless other than for giving Graham a chance to chew the scenery for a moment. Things get slightly more interesting once the brothers inadvertently kill a suspect, and all the more once they realise that he might have been innocent; Bettany plays tortured exceedingly well, though the ponderous screenplay does him little favours, punishingly low on intrigue and suspense as it is.
Mark Strong is solidly effective in a small role as the potential foil, the cop who threatens to unravel their corruption, but becomes inconsequential once the narrative turns maddeningly surreal, reaching a thoroughly over-blown, maudlin climax. In the end, the characters just do what they should have done a good 45-minutes ago; the cinematic equivalent of a slow-clap, in all of its forced, faux-poeticism.
A portentous, sub-BBC production in which no corrupt cop trope is left unturned.
Blood is released in the UK at an undisclosed date next year.
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