Director Nick Murphy made an auspicious debut with his 2011 gothic horror film, The Awakening. It was atmospheric but left enough leeway to let his excellent actors help carry the drama. I had high hopes for his follow up feature, Blood, but the result could not be more disappointing. Unwilling to simply be a bland crime drama, Blood never misses an opportunity to grab hold of a coincidence that’s either laughably contrived or painfully forced. Furthermore, the excellent cast is completely wasted by going through the repetitive motions of feeling guilty before feeling guilty followed by more feeling guilty. This exploration of guilt would feel more rewarding if the film ever dared to push beyond the obvious moral ramifications, but the film is too busy running around in gorgeously shot circles.
Brothers Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie Fairburn (Stephen Graham) are detectives working the case of a young girl who was stabbed to death, and left in an empty swimming pool. Their investigation soon leads them to Jason Blueigh (Ben Crompton), a convicted sex offender who claims he has now found Jesus. When they discover voyeuristic photos of young girls in Blueigh’s flat, the detectives become convinced he’s their man. However, they have to let him go due to a lack of evidence. Reminded of another killer who got away, Joe and Chrissie kidnap Blueigh and take him out to a desolate beach where they try to scare a confession out of him. But when Blueigh sends Joe into a drunken fit of rage, they kill their suspect, and spend the rest of the movie trying to cover up their crime, especially from their sharp fellow detective, Robert Seymour (Mark Strong).
Bill Gallagher awful script is always in a big rush to go nowhere. We barely establish a sense of Joe and Chrissie’s characters before they get to their dirty deed. Joe is a family man with a wife of twenty years, and Chrissie has a long-term relationship with his girlfriend. Their father, Lenny (Brian Cox), is a former cop now suffering from dementia, and was passed out in the back of their car when the murder occurred. All of this adds up to the brothers being surrounded by people who don’t know their crime, and making their guilt feel even worse. If you can’t figure out this emotional dilemma for yourself, one of the characters actually says it out loud at one point.
Everything leads back to Joe and Chrissie coping with their guilt, and because their crime happens so early in the film, that guilt stretches onward, but never in a way that gets under our skin. It’s unrelentingly oppressive, and it backs the leads into a corner. Bettany and Graham are terrific actors, but they can only leave us with the question, “How long can you watch two guys be twitchy?” Their characters are trapped, but so are the performances. Gallagher and Murphy give their actors room to maneuver because the characters are one dimensional. Chrissie’s guilt may manifest in wanting to reveal the truth, and Joe may want to bury the secret deeper, but it’s still the same, bland conflict.
Because guilt is the only thing that drives the movie, it becomes all-consuming but in a way that’s rarely effective. At least the cinematography works because it takes a muted palette, makes it darker, and slowly closes the frame in on the protagonists. It feels intentional unlike the rest of Murphy’s decisions, which feel like they’re trying too hard to emphasize the guilt. When Joe and Chrissie are conspiring, we’re left wondering if the police station is really the best place to have a hushed, sweaty conversation.
I still believe Murphy is a director to watch, but his overwrought approach to a simplistic, repetitive narrative is incredibly disheartening. There’s nothing wrong with making a movie about people wrestling with guilt, but that guilt has to take them somewhere interesting. Blood won’t even start the ride until the film is in its final ten minutes, and then we’re almost tricked into believing that everything has clicked together in a rewarding fashion. But then we remember the one note that has been playing for almost the entirety of the picture, and we’re just relieved that the song is over.