French director Guillaume Canet produced one of the best psychological mysteries of recent years in "Tell No One," a foreign-made art-house thriller that even played in Los Angeles for six or eight weeks, which was a mystery itself. He knows suspense, and he knows genre, and for his Cain-and-Abel caper film, "Blood Ties," he must have immersed himself in Sidney Lumet movies and maybe reruns of "Kojak." From the opening titles, the sense of '70s police drama is convincing, disturbing and even a little OCD.
In fact, the plotline is so schematic that Canet's purpose could only be homage. Frank (Billy Crudup) is a Brooklyn detective, evidently tortured by his conscience; his older brother, Chris (Clive Owen), is just out of prison and wants to go straight, but we know better. Frank and Chris had different upbringings: Their father, played by James Caan (and who says the '70s better?), threw their mother out when Frank was a baby, so he has no memories of her. Presumably, that is the thing that determined their fates, although there's enough of the bad seed about Chris that any attempts at fixing a psychological strategy to Canet's noirish narrative will fall short. He's in search of atmosphere, and iconic devices.
The latter include Chris' junkie-prostitute wife, played by a too-radiant Marion Cotillard; Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), the single mom Frank loves who also happens to be involved with the petty criminal Frank is bending the law to send away; the boys' devoted sister, Marie (Lili Taylor), who was born to be disappointed, and Natalie (Mila Kunis), who compared to the rest of this crowd is a naif and an innocent, enough so that she falls for Chris. Will she contribute to his downfall? Who said he had a downfall? Yes, Canet may be telegraphing his entire movie from those Quinn Martin opening credits. But let's not jump to conclusions.
PLOT Brothers on opposite sides of the law in 1970s Brooklyn paint the borough red.
RATING R (violence, pervasive language, some sexual content and brief drug use)
CAST Billy Crudup, Clive Owen, Mila Kunis, Marion Cotillard
BOTTOM LINE Intriguing performances, and a sense of '70s American cinema that seems to have been preserved in a lava lamp.