The traditional cop movie is going to have some angst. That’s a standard for the genre. If people took movies as accurate depictions of the world, that would mean we have to assume every officer is walking around the police station in a melodramatic haze, dwelling on things of the past while having little to no hope for a better future. Nick Murphy’s Blood does nothing to subvert that mold, but rather, delves farther into it, giving a bleak look at the life of a police family, and the weight that their actions may place on their souls.
After the stabbing of a young girl, a lonely religious man, Jason, is brought in for questioning, and throughout the course of his semi-coherent ravings, police brothers Joe and Chrissie Fairburn (Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham) believe that he’s given enough to be implicated for the murder, and they celebrate their victory. Unfortunately for them, the man is released due to not nearly enough evidence being brought against him. This drives Joe mad, and instead of searching for more evidence in the traditional manner, he decides to extend his interest in this case to some overtime work, getting drunk and hunting down the loner outside a church late one night. Joe and Chrissie toss him in a car, right next to their sleeping dad who suffers from dementia (Brian Cox). They drive out to the beach and tell the man to start digging in an effort to force a confession out of him. When no confession comes, but some more half-coherent ravings do, Joe looses control and kills the man with the blade of the shovel.
While he never intended to kill the man, Joe is initially okay with what he did under the justification that he was giving the man what his crime commanded. That is all thrown into question though when the girl’s actual killer is located and implicated, and Joe realizes he killed an innocent man. Another officer, Robert (Mark Strong), has a hunch that the two brothers know something about the religious man’s disappearance, and he attempts to find out whatever he can.
The main problem with Blood lies in the fact that too much is hinted at without being properly explained. It seems Joe’s passion about this particular case stems from an earlier, failed case, but unfortunately we never find out anything about the case, leaving us to wonder whether what is hinted at was actually real or if it’s a simple effort to make some sense of Joe’s rash actions.
There’s also hints of a family rivalry, which would play into the whole fallen dynasty thing the movie is set against, but we never see anything real between the brothers other than panic, and there’s barely anything from the father, except when he seems confused about what is happening around him. Attempting to condense the 6-part miniseries which Blood is based on into 90 minutes was going to leave quite a bit of the character development out, but it seems critical elements are omitted, and this is a rare case of a film that would be much better served by adding another half hour to its run time.
The utter lack of clear motivation for the characters’ actions is extremely distracting. There are moments in the plot that seem to be propelled by absolutely nothing. They act like they’ve won when there’s no clear conclusion of anything like that, and when Joe goes after Jason in a rage, there’s no clear reason for him to kidnap him. I’m not saying a movie needs to explicitly state every bit of a character’s thoughts and motivations, but some things have to be at least hinted at, as opposed to totally implied.
Set up to be the story of the fall of a dynasty, it’s never really shown what the Fairburns once were. As we see them now, there’s the dad, who despite suffering from dementia currently, was once a brutal police chief, willing to beat a confession out of anyone who did or didn’t do something, Joe, who seems to lack the proper knowledge of what constitutes evidence and has an insignificantly motivated vendetta against certain criminals, and Chrissie, a bumbling man who seems out of place and too nice for any proper police duty. Not quite an ideal dynasty right there.
Bettany and Graham both turn in solid performances but are quite jarring as brothers. I’m not saying every set of brothers in a movie has to look the exact same, but these two are so drastically different that its a wonder that they were cast by the same person, let alone supposed to star in the same movie. That being said, the relationship between Chrissie and Joe is one of the most interesting parts of the film. Chrissie is the typical younger brother, following what his elder brother has to say without much question, but eventually the build-up of too much submissiveness brings him to the brink of confessing it all.
Bettany shows his skill at dealing with the internal struggles Joe is faced with, and the best scenes of the movie are where the focus is on him and his troubles. Bettany has a knack for bringing that sort of turmoil to the screen, and he’s on his game yet again in Blood. It’s a top notch performance, and if for nothing else, the movie is worth watching to see how great he is. From the cool confidence at the start of the movie, to the completely broken and humbled man we see at the end, Bettany nails the highs and the lows of his character in a way that is seldom seen in such a film.
It’s the film’s theme of the murderers who get away with it are those who suffer the most that provides a poignant twist on the traditional fallen cop tale. Joe’s delusional conversations with the man he brutally murdered serve as scathingly rough scenes to watch, as those are the scenes where Bettany seems most tormented. It’s Strong’s all-knowing demeanor which adds another essential layer to the story, and as usual, the actor is a treat to watch. He’s composed, yet you can tell there’s so much going on just beneath the surface to drive his character.
Still, the strengths aren’t enough to detract greatly from the film’s flaws, which include some peculiar technical choices. Some of the decisions with the sound are absolutely baffling. Early in the film, during conversations where we could be getting to know the characters, music washes over their words, so we’re left listing to a song while watching people pretend to have a conversation. Later, in intense scenes, the sound is removed completely, so instead of getting to hear someone’s dying breaths, or the agony with which another character reacts to it, we merely hear silence. Occasionally in films, total silence can strengthen the images on the screen, as long as it is done right. This is not one of those cases.
The premise of the film is an exciting one, and with the phenomenal performances by all of the main cast, Blood had potential to be great. Unfortunately, the plot jumps around far too much, going between many of the scenes without much reason for the changes. Furthermore, the character motivations are rarely shown in a clear manner, leaving a distracting amount to be implied. If a bit more of what must be implied was actually shown on the screen, Blood would be a much better movie. But as is true within the film so is true with watching it: as much as we can long for something better to be present, and things to have turned out a slightly different way, they didn’t, leaving a disappointing final result.
Despite excellent performances throughout, Blood's forced plot and incomplete story causes it to fall far short of its potential.