Jérémie Guez’s powerful Brothers by Blood joins the pantheon of somber crime films set in the shadow of America’s sociopolitical upheaval, like the recent Donnybrook, Skin, or the not-so-recent Out of the Furnace. While disparate in terms of plot, these films share a dispirited, cynical, viewed-through-a-steely-blue-prism perspective of this country; their dismissed characters’ criminal behavior is a direct consequence of an injustice wrought upon them. Unable to fight the system, they lash out, projecting their aggression and helplessness into violence.
Brothers by Blood is thankfully neither preachy nor overt in its indictment of the Regime. Donald Trump appears on the news in the background several times, and a character makes a snide comment about the disgraced president. But it’s the dismal lives to which the protagonists are relegated; it’s the way Philly’s dank streets are portrayed, the clothes the characters wear, the way they talk, and how they hustle that intrigues and repels. Guez lets his potent cast and imagery do all the indicting.
“…Michael goes head-to-head with the Italian mob…unwaveringly follows his path to retribution.”
At its heart, Brothers by Blood is a good old-fashioned story of familial bonds, set against the violent backdrop of the Philadelphia mob world. Guez elegantly establishes his milieu in the opening scene, a rooftop-set rapport between the three protagonists: the quiet roofer Peter (Matthias Schoenaerts), his borderline-deranged cousin Michael (Joel Kinnaman), and their somewhat hapless friend Jimmy (Paul Schneider). The latter’s detailed report of how to relax during a colonoscopy is interrupted when Peter, who hasn’t heard a word, jumps off the ledge. Luckily, the rooftop is only a few feet high.
Dramatic flashbacks – involving Peter’s retribution-seeking father Charlie (Ryan Phillippe), his sister’s death, his mentally-ill mother, and a sinister uncle – reveal the reason for Peter’s proclivity to jump off ledges. Presently, due to a series of intricate events, Michael goes head-to-head with the Italian mob. “You know we can’t fight them,” Peter tries to reason. Even after an encounter with a bullet, Michael unwaveringly follows his path to retribution.
"…Joel Kinnaman gives it his all..."