Granted, “Blood Ties” is a bit of mess (and you can read why in our review from Cannes), but there is much to like about it too. Particularly the performances, with Clive Owen giving the best turn he’s delivered in a quite a while, matched by Billy Crudup as his emotionally wounded brother and James Caan as their father who comes between the pair, eager to keep the family together. A sprawling two-and-a-half-hour saga set in the mid-1970s, the story chronicles ex-con Chris, recently out of another stint in the joint, who spirals back into a life of crime, while is brother Frank is torn between the affection he has for his brother and his duty to bring him to justice.
It’s a lot to tackle — with an extended cast that features Mila Kunis, Matthias Schoenaerts, Zoe Saldana, Marion Cotillard, Noah Emmerich and Lili Taylor too — and while it doesn’t quite come together, the talent is still intriguing. With the premiere now behind it, a few more details about the movie have dropped in the notes, most notably, that Mark Wahlberg was originally cast in one of the sibling lead roles before bailing nearly at the last minute. It’s a bit of a surprising revelation that is usually not found in promo material that is supposed to provide pretty tame and boilerplate background info. The actor, who had played a cop with brother issues in “Blood Ties” co-writer James Gray‘s “We Own The Night,” felt it was a bit too similar to his other roles (though that doesn’t explain the “Contraband“/”Broken City“/”2 Guns” trifecta).
Anyway, below you can get the background on Gray’s involvement and Wahlberg’s departure in Canet’s own words plus some new pics. No U.S. distributor for this one yet.
On working with James Gray on the script
One day, I got a phone call from my French agent saying that James Gray was in Paris
and he wished to meet me after he’d seen and enjoyed TELL NO ONE. We had lunch
together and right away I had this weird feeling that I had known him for 20 years.
A few months later, I ran into him at the Cannes Film Festival where he was a jury
member. At that time the project of a remake of BLOOD TIES was shaping up and I was
looking for a screenwriter with whom to co-write the film, someone who could set the
story in New York in the 70s. I asked James if he knew of any possible candidates and
his answer was brief and surprising: “Me”! Surprising because until then he hadn’t
written anything for anybody else. But he said he liked the story and would be happy to
work with me. To be honest, my immediate reaction was one of disbelief. And then he
came to France to receive a tribute award at the Beaune festival. I managed to corner
him for two weeks in Paris and we started writing. As you can imagine, I learned a lot
from him. But not what I had figured on at the start. James taught me a lot of things
about film structure whereas I had expected him to help me to adapt the story to New
York. However, when he left Paris we hadn’t even written a proper first draft. So some
time later I flew to Los Angeles to carry on working on the script with him. We managed
to write a first albeit incomplete draft but it was readable.
On Mark Wahlberg almost starring
It started with a phone call from my American agent
saying that Mark Wahlberg wanted to meet me after he had seen TELL NO ONE. To me
it was the epitome of the false good idea. Mark Wahlberg playing in a script co-written
by James Gray about the story of two brothers! It obviously sounded déjà-vu! However
as my agent insisted, I met Mark Wahlberg. My idea was to tell him I was happy to
meet him and honored that he wanted to work with me but that frankly he was not
right for the part. All the more so as he had just finished THE FIGHTER. He told me
that, on the contrary, I was wrong and that we had to make this film together. I gave
him the script and two days later he called to tell me he just loved it. So in the ensuing
months I started looking for the guy who could play the elder brother. I’ll gloss over the
difficulties of my search but it was a long, hard slog.
So there I was, confident that I had found
my two brothers [Clive Owen & Wahlberg]. And then… Mark Wahlberg told me that he wouldn’t do the film after
all. Because on second thoughts, the part was too similar to the ones that he had been
playing so far. It was like the sky was suddenly falling because his name had helped
us, in large part, to raise money for the film. It was December and preproduction was
supposed to kick off on January 15.