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LFF Review: Blood

Director: Nick Murphy

Cast: Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham, Mark Strong, Brian Cox, Natasha Little

Running time: 95 minutes

Plot: When a young girl is found brutally murdered, Joe and Chris Fairburn (Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham) vow to catch her killer. When their prime suspect Jason (Ben Crompton) is released due to lack of evidence, they take after their ex-cop father Lenny (Brian Cox) and take the interrogation into their own hands. However, the ethical consequences of their actions cause their worlds the crumble around them.

The original review for this film was a little jauntier, however in light of recent events, it is almost impossible to watch BLOOD without thinking of April Jones. Nick Murphy’s film opens with the discovery of a murdered girl, the hunt for her killer and the public fury that is met in kind with that of the police. Very swiftly, they find a chief suspect and he is promptly arrested, amidst the vitriol of the local community. This is strikingly similar to the real life events in Machynllth, and much like April, the murdered girl herein is frequently prefixed with ‘Little,’ for added emotional impact. It makes the film even more uneasy to watch than Murphy intended, which is saying something.

When Ben Affleck’s directorial debut GONE BABY GONE was released, the real life tragedy of Madeline McCann was at the peak of a media frenzy, and it was practically impossible to view that film outside of the cultural context in which it fell. BLOOD suffers equally from such a comparison and though it will now be shrouded in the shadow of parallel real world events, we should continue this review outside of that context.

Murphy presents a world essentially drained of colour and vicariously, hope. The grim palette of the town reflects the nightmarish world these characters inhabit, in a very Fincher-esque manner. The feeling of the film is overwhelmingly hopeless, so despairing that it almost becomes funny. Especially if one has recently seen Charlie Brooker’s NAKED GUN-style spoof of the genre, A TOUCH OF CLOTH, which lampoons most of the codes and conventions that BLOOD extols (The spoof even featured Brian Cox, one of the principle characters in this film). A lot of clichés are set in place quite quickly;

A morally troubled protagonist cop with a difficult family life, check.
A constant reminder over his guilt from a previous failed case, check.
A pen-pushing desk-jockey who halts the prevalence of real justice by insisting they need a little thing called evidence that we all hate because he doesn’t allow real police work like punching and stuff, check.

Up until the point where the assumed pedophilic killer is released because of lack of proof, the film’s ethics seem very much in place and are troubling to say the least. Both Joe and Chrissie are frequently taunted by their ex-cop father Lenny over their namby-pamby, liberal police work not getting the results that the aggressive wollop-the-suspect-until-you-get-the-answer-you-want tactics of his era garnered. Lenny is a graduate of the 1970s school of detection. He is Jack Reagan suffering from dementia, Gene Hunt with Alzheimers. At points, the manner in which Cox delivers his character’s mental disintegration is very moving, at others it’s clearly a narrative tool, by which revelations can later be used to extra dramatic effect, and sometimes mere exposition. Regardless, the ethics of the film do seem uncompromisingly in place, that is until Joe crosses the line in his unofficial interrogation of Jason (Ben Crompton) and does something no copper should ever, ever do. The twists that follow serve to cloud the morals of the characters and the film itself, and the piece becomes all the stronger for it.

Bettany and Graham are the core of the movie as brothers Joe and Chris, their bond weakening under the pressure of investigation as well as their own morality. But the actors swerve strongly between melodrama and understated horror, not quite settling on how far too push their performances. Bettany (who seems to physically morph into Robert Webb through out the film) gives an undeniably convicted portrayal of the haunted policeman, but again, you don’t know whether to be drawn in to what he does or stifle a giggle at just how silly it is. Graham is never anything less than brilliant as the faithful younger brother coming apart at the seems, staying on the right side of melodrama and creating a character that you truly feel for. The star of the show, though, is Mark Strong as veteran copper Seymour. His steely stare is tempered by his innate and constant desire to do good, and his lonely, well meaning detective is by far the most sympathetic character in the film, despite going through the least emotional and psychological turmoil.

The women of the piece don’t really get a look in. There’s the potential for some fine performances here, but these characters exist only as an extension of the males in the film and their actions are merely reactions to the men in their lives. Joe’s wife Lily (Natasha Little) and daughter Miriam (Naomi Battrick) serve primarily as the motivation for him covering his tracks, as well as crying a lot. Chris’ girlfriend Jemma (Zoe Tapper) doesn’t get much more attention from the script (but does get a gratuitous nude shot) and Jason’s long suffering mother (Sandra Voe) does her best but is only there as a reminder of the brothers’ foul deeds.

All in all, BLOOD is an engaging, at times nerve wracking piece that would work better as a star studded two-part drama on Sunday nights. It was in fact adapted by Bill Gallagher from his own television series, CONVICTION, which was broadcast on BBC 3 in 2004, and you can’t help but wonder why. There’s no real benefit to transferring to the big screen, other than procuring such a fine array of talent. BLOOD would be a great drama were it re-cut for television, but as it stands, makes a very standard film. And try not to laugh. It’s serious, y’know.

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John is a gentleman, a scholar, he’s an acrobat. He is one half of the comedy duo Good Ol’ JR, and considers himself a comedy writer/performer. This view has been questioned by others. He graduated with First Class Honours in Media Arts/Film & TV, a fact he will remain smug about long after everyone has stopped caring. He enjoys movies, theatre, live comedy and writing with the JR member and hetero life partner Ryan. Some of their sketches can be seen on YouTube and YOU can take their total hits to way over 17!

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