In the meantime, Jimmy’s sister Grace (Maika Monroe) returns to town, all grown up and ready to be Peter’s object of affection. Jimmy’s bar is soon burned down, along with his most prized possessions. Jimmy also happens to owe Michael a hefty sum of money. An incident involving Michael’s doomed racehorse sets the final events in motion.
A lot happens, but remarkably, Brothers by Blood unfolds relatively leisurely; at 85 minutes (sans credits), it never feels overstuffed, the writer/ director favoring atmosphere over action. Things are revealed via conversation and implication as opposed to exposition – a laudable achievement. It may not break new ground when it comes to this genre, one involving betrayal and heavily-accented mob bosses and brotherly (although our heroes are technically cousins) love, but when a familiar path is tread with such confidence, you just may want to take another stroll.
“…it never feels overstuffed…”
The three leads counterbalance each other perfectly; there’s a natural, lived-in chemistry between them. Matthias Schoenaerts’s intense, introverted gaze suggests he sees through all the bullsh*t and is constantly one step ahead of everyone else. His sympathetic Peter is wary of the life choices he’s been given, tormented by his cousin (whom he loves), haunted by his sister’s death (along with a plethora of other childhood issues). Schoenaerts grounds the proceedings with real gravitas. Playing his polar opposite, Joel Kinnaman gives it his all: it’s one of those unhinged, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him performances, and arguably his best yet. My one gripe is that the talented Maika Monroe gets a bit lost in this boy’s club, doing her best with a perfunctory role.
Whether it’s Michael trying to shoot his “spaghetti-legged,” $80,000 horse in the stables after it has proven useless, or a vicious power play on a dingy boxing ring, Guez proves more than capable at piecing together riveting sequences. Brothers by Blood is about the traits we inherit from our parents, our loyalties and debts, and the difference between the two. Beneath it all, a sad lyricism permeates the proceedings. “This country’s fuc*ed, way past the point of no return,” the film seems to be saying, “and if we don’t have each other, then what are we left with?”
"…Joel Kinnaman gives it his all..."