“You can’t bury the truth.”
Director: Nick Murphy
Cast: Paul Bettany, Mark Strong, Stephen Graham
Synopsis: Thriller charting the moral collapse of a police family. Two cop brothers, smothered by the shadow of their former police chief father, must investigate a crime they themselves have committed.
Nick Murphy’s Blood has the look and feel of a TV drama rather than a theatrical feature, which is perhaps due to the fact that it’s based on Conviction, a six-part TV series from 2004. It’s an interesting movie, though, clearly made with a lot of care and a lot of attention paid to detail. It’s ostensibly the story of a murder investigation that goes disastrously wrong, but more than that, it’s a character study of two men set on a path of self-destruction by one moment of madness.
The two men are brothers, Joe and Chrissie Fairburn, played by Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham respectively. They are policemen, essentially decent men if a little rough around the edges. Joe has a wife and daughter from whom he’s become a little detached, while Chrissie has prevaricated over proposing to his long-term girlfriend for too long. They work together in the shadow of their father, Lenny (Brian Cox), who was once the chief of the station in which his sons now work. Now retired, Lenny is in the mid-stage of Alzheimer’s, but the strength of his personality remains largely undiminished. The brothers are investigating the murder of a local girl, a young teenager, and are genuinely frustrated when the man whom they are convinced committed the murder is released from custody pending further investigation.
Fuelled by alcohol and a burning sense of outrage, Joe and Chrissie abduct their suspect one drunken night and take him to ‘the islands’, some stretches of land that become cut off from the mainland when the tide comes in. In the old days, their father would take stubborn suspects there to rough them up away from prying eyes, and with their sleeping father in the back of the car, the brothers intend doing the same thing to their suspect, a convicted flasher named Jason Buleigh (Ben Crompton) who has found God since he was last convicted. But things get out of hand, and Buleigh ends up dead. Joe and Chrissie bury his body in the moist sand of the islands, but it’s a lot easier to hide the body than it is to conceal their feelings of guilt from family and colleagues.
Although the quality of the production and the cast is undeniable, Blood does suffer from some lapses in its storyline. The brothers’ unshakable certainty of Buleigh’s guilt is founded upon circumstantial evidence which is never convincing enough to justify the lengths they go to in their attempt to coax a confession from their victim. And while the manner in which they mope around, torn up by guilt and shame would be enough to make even a rookie suspicious, the gigantic leaps of deduction made by a loner colleague (Mark Strong) are of Holmesian proportions. These flaws are counterbalanced by some superb performances from an incredible cast. Stephen Graham, more accustomed to mad man roles, is called upon to project more emotion than usual and convincingly copes with the task, and Brian Cox as a strong man treading a precarious line between this world and the twilight one of dementia, steals every scene he’s in. Paul Bettany carries the heaviest burden and holds his own in such heavyweight company.
The story unfolds at a deliberate pace which some might struggle with, but that’s because it’s more about the characters involved and the decisions they make than the murder mystery which sparks things off. No doubt, writer Bill Gallagher must have had to pare off a substantial amount of plot from his original 6-hour TV series, but Blood never feels as if it is skimming the surface or rushing things and clearly benefits from having the man who created the characters in the first place penning the movie version eight years later.