Dir: Nick Murphy
Blood, which could really only have a more clangingly generic and metaphor laden title if it were called The Filth, is a staggering disappointment given both the talent involved behind and particularly in front of the camera.
Based on the TV series Conviction, also penned by screenwriter Bill Gallagher, Blood begins by giving detectives and brothers Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie (Stephen Graham) a brutal murder case; a 12 year old girl stabbed multiple times and left in plain sight. The two dicks soon have a suspect who looks a likely perpetrator in convicted sex offender Jason Buleigh (Ben Crompton) and so they take him out to the beach where their Father (Brian Cox), a former detective who now has alzheimers, says he used to beat confessions out of his suspects. Joe goes too far, and enlists Chrissie's help to cover his mistake, but when it looks as though Buleigh might not be guilty both brothers begin to lose their grip on their normal lives.
The generic feel begins with the setting. There is a distinct landmark in the islands that play a large part in the film, but unless you already know where those islands are you'll be very hard pressed to work it out from the film's dull grey town which could pass for a deprived suburb of any city, and thanks to the accents you'll probably be surprised that we're not in London. Neither the crime that powers the plot nor the characters that play major roles in it are especially well rendered or original, and while the murder that is found at the beginning of the film is nasty it seems neither so very special nor so very vicious that it should push a veteran detective like Joe to any sort of edge, especially after such a short period of investigation.
In reducing the narrative from the six hours it occupied on TV to two and a little change for film it is very apparent that much detail and motivation has had to be cut, even from the main characters storylines, and so we see very broad strokes filling in Joe and Chrissie's childhood, and the kind of cop there father was (or, at least, may have been) and the crime that prompts Joe and Chrissie's actions is dealt extremely short shrift, the investigation taking up perhaps ten minutes of screentime. The investigation of Joe, by his colleague (Mark Strong) also lacks weight because there seems to be so little proper procedure to it, and it ends in a laughably contrived movie moment that undermines the whole idea of Strong's character as pursuer of justice. The idea of justice is another thing I wonder about in this film. It has a bit of a reactionary bent. Yes it acknowledges that Joe and Chrissie are in the wrong, but only when there is doubt cast on whether Buleigh did it. It also seems to position Mark Strong's character as the villain. I got the feeling the movie would be fine with their actions were that not the case (certainly it never implies disapproval of Brian Cox's character's methods).
These problems are only added to by director Nick Murphy and his usually reliable cast. I liked Murphy's debut, The Awakening; a stylish and well made ghost story a cut above the thousands of other noises off scarers that have been in cinemas over the past decade, but here he suffers a terrible sophomore slump. Without virtuoso young DP Eduard Grau he delivers a flat and grey film that looks like what it is at a screenplay level: barely glorified TV drama. He races through events, desperate to ram as much in to the story as possible, which results in scenes jam packed with exposition, but still manages to pace the film as a whole like a glacier on downers.
Murphy also seems unable to draw competent performances from his cast (a surprise, as the acting was a strong suit of The Awakening). Paul Bettany is the worst offender, going off the deep end with an overblown and quite impressively awful performance which becomes bigger and worse with every passing scene. Stephen Graham tries hard, but by the third act he too is pulled in to the overactors anonymous meeting that appears to have been this film's rehearsal process. Most of the rest of the cast are given very short shrift, though Brian Cox does what he can with the cliché and inconsistent writing of his senile character.
I like police procedurals, but in a post Zodiac world you really have to deliver more than this collection of mouldy, indifferently shot and badly acted clichés. Nick Murphy should know better, and so should whoever programmed this poor genre exercise as a world première at the London Film Festival.