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brothers by blood

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‘Brothers by Blood’ review: Too by the book?

The movie wears a lot of hats.

It is usually not a good sign when a movie is known by a number of different names. If the writers cannot even decide on a title, how can they be trusted to write a whole film? Especially one that deals with heady topics like survivor’s guilt, revenge, and family. Brothers by Blood (or The Sons of Philadelphia or The Sound of Philadelphia) is adapted from the novel named Brotherly Love (!) about a boy named Peter Flood (Mathias Schoenaerts) who is tormented by the death of his sister he watched her die when he was an eight year old. Thirty years later, he tries to escape the family’s criminal ties as his cousin (Joel Kinnaman) becomes more powerful.

Brothers by Blood is very much a case of tell, not show. Much of the action is described and little takes place on screen. This brings an odd atmosphere to the movie. The movie depicts a morose life that borders on hopelessness very often. But it also lacks the excitement that one would expect from this type of movie. Director Jeremie Guez is clearly going for a minimalist look. It just does not always fit the story being told.

Pacing is definitely an issue with the film. There are many flashbacks used to flesh out the characters. They work to an extent, but they also slow down Brothers by Blood. The erratic story also never gives the audience time to settle in with one plot thread. It tries to be a gangster movie, retribution story, and a tale of betrayal. Never settling on an idea ends up making the whole endeavor feel bland.

Brothers by Blood is carried by some very noteworthy performances. Schoenaerts plays the brooding antagonist who just wants a better life. Kinnaman also excels as the slimy cousin who just wants more power. This all culminates in a strong finale that ends the movie fittingly. The cast will keep the audience engaged even when the story fails to.

When a movie is barely able to win the audience over, sometimes the acting is strong enough to draw them in. That is almost the case in Brothers by Blood. The story is too content to leave much of the action to the imagination. Its straightforward story also manages to be all over the place. The film is like the source material in all the wrong ways.

Brothers by Blood comes to select theaters, VOD, and on demand January 22

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