Review: ‘The Locksmith’ (2023), starring Ryan Phillippe, Kate Bosworth, Jeffrey Nordling, Gabriela Quezada, Madeleine Guilbot, Charlie Weber and Ving Rhames

April 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Gabriela Quezada and Ryan Phillippe in “The Locksmith” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“The Locksmith” (2023)

Directed by Nicolas Harvard

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Mexico, the dramatic film “The Locksmith” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After spending 10 years in prison on burglary charges, a former locksmith is released from prison and gets lured back into a life of crime while he tries to make amends with his family and with the daughter of his former partner in crime. 

Culture Audience: “The Locksmith” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching stupid crime dramas.

Ving Rhames in “The Locksmith” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“The Locksmith” is an idiotic flop whose screenplay should’ve stayed locked up in places where bad screenplays never get made into movies. The plot twists are really plot holes. The performances and direction are low-quality and uninspired. Everything about this movie looks misguided and fake.

Directed by Nicolas Harvard, “The Locksmith” (which is Harvard’s feature-film directorial debut) was written by Joe Russo and Chris LaMont. It might be surprising for some people to know that Russo co-directed several Marvel Studios blockbusters, including 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” It just goes to show that directing mega-hits doesn’t automatically turn someone into a great screenwriter. “The Locksmith” is an example of one bad decision after another, not just from the movie’s main characters but also the filmmakers.

“The Locksmith” (which takes place and was filmed in New Mexico) begins by showing a nighttime break-in at a warehouse by two burglars who are there to steal a large amount of cash from a locked safe. No one else is in the warehouse. Miller Graham (played by Ryan Phillippe) and his partner Kevin Reyes (played by George Akram) both have different feelings about this theft.

Before they broke into the warehouse, Kevin said to Miller: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this, man. Didn’t Frank pass on this job?” Miller replies, “I need the money, Kevin.” Unfortunately for these two thieves, the cash in the safe has a motion sensor, which triggers a silent alarm. Before these two burglars can make a getaway, police arrive to apprehend them.

The first cop on the scene is Ian Zwick (played by Jeffrey Nordling), who does something that unarmed Miller and Kevin don’t expect: Ian shoots out the tires of the getaway car and then coldly murders Kevin by shooting him, even though Kevin had no weapon and was not resisting arrest. Miller surrenders without a fight. When other cops arrive as backup, Ian lies to them and says that he shot Kevin in self-defense. Miller knows the truth, but he doesn’t say anything, because he knows that the other cops won’t believe him.

The movie then fast-forwards to 10 years later. Miller has gotten out of prison. He actually had a prison sentence that was longer than 10 years, but he was released early due to good behavior. At various times in the movie, Miller meets with his parole officer Sharon (played by Livia Treviño), who is firm but empathetic about Miller trying to turn his life around. It’s a lot easier said than done for Miller.

The person who gives Miller a car ride after Miller gets out of prison is his former boss Frank (played by Ving Rhames), who owns a small business as a locksmith. Frank feels a little guilty because he was the one who influenced Miller to do the burglary that got Miller arrested and Kevin killed. Therefore, Frank offers to give Miller a job, but he says it can only be as a handyman, since Miller’s felony theft conviction means that Miller lost his locksmith license.

Kevin was a single father raising a teenage daughter named April, who was put in the foster care system after Kevin died. After Miller gets out of prison, Frank mentions that Frank tried to become a father figure to April, but she rejected his attempts. Frank has not kept in touch with April for years.

Miller has a lot of things he wants to make amends for that he couldn’t do while he was in prison. For starters, Miller was married with a baby daughter named Lindsay Graham when he was sent to prison. His wife Beth Fisher (played by Kate Bosworth) divorced him while he was in prison. Miller has not seen or talked to Lindsay since being sent to prison.

Shortly after his prison release, Miller has an uncomfortable reunion with Beth and Lindsay. They have met at Miller’s request. The meeting place that Miller chose is a diner where he and Beth used to go on dates when they were a happy couple. Lindsay (played by Madeleine Guilbot), who is now 10 years old, is polite but shy around Miller, whom she thinks of as a stranger.

Miller is apologetic to Beth about how much he hurt their family, but he promises her that he’s turning his life around and he wants to be a good father to Lindsay. He asks Beth to let him prove how much he’s changed. Beth is very skeptical and standoffish, but she reluctantly agrees to Miller having visits with Lindsay.

One day, Frank sends Miller out on a locksmith job, even though Miller doesn’t have a license. The customer is a wealthy businessman named Garrett Field (played by Charlie Weber), who is smug and arrogant with almost everyone. Miller has been assigned to do a lock job at one of the apartment buildings owned by Garrett. Miller is shocked to find out that the person who recommended him for the job is Garrett’s employee April Reyes (played by Gabriela Quezada), the daughter of Miller’s deceased thief partner Kevin.

April is now in her 20s, and she has turned into a very jaded person because of all the bad experiences she’s had in her life. She shows up unexpectedly at the apartment building to talk to Miller, who has an awkward reunion with her. April tells Miller that she’s in a lot of trouble (she doesn’t go into details at first), and she asks Miller to do one last burglary, so she can have the cash to “start a new life.” April makes Miller feel guilty about the way Kevin died, but Miller refuses her request, because he doesn’t want to risk going back to prison.

Shortly after finishing the job at Garrett’s apartment building, Miller is pulled over by three cops: his old enemy Ian (who is now a police sergeant) and two of Ian’s subordinates in the police department’s vice division: Detective Perez (played by Noel Gugliemi, also known as Noel G) and Detective Jones (played by Bourke Floyd), who enable Ian’s bullying. Ian, Perez and Jones rough up Miller a little bit. Ian warns Miller that he better not tell anyone what happened the night that Kevin was shot to death.

Miller assures these corrupt cops that he won’t tell anyone. But in order to further intimidate Miller, Ian does a search of the company van that Miller is driving. The cops find locksmith tools in the van, so they assume that Miller is working as an unlicensed locksmith, which is in violation of Miller’s parole. Miller says he’s just a handyman, but the cops don’t believe him. And so, Miller is arrested on the spot.

Miller is eventually released with no charges being filed, because Police Chief Stern (played by Tom Wright) has decided there was no proof that Miller actually used these locksmith tools. And guess who also happens to be a cop working at the same police station? Miller’s ex-wife Beth, who is angry and embarrassed that Miller got arrested again. Ian is retiring soon, and he tells Beth that he’s recommended that she get a promotion to work in the vice division.

“The Locksmith” becomes a tangled and silly mess when Miller changes his mind about committing a burglary for April, after she tells him that her boss Garrett has been physically abusing her. April shows Miller some bruises on her body that she says are from Garrett’s abuse. This information is already revealed in “The Locksmith” trailer, which gives away about 75% of the movie’s ludicrous plot.

Of course, things go very wrong with this burglary too. There are double-crosses, shootouts, at least one kidnapping and many scenes that don’t look believable at all. Certain scenarios in the movie make no sense and just insult viewers’ intelligence. “The Locksmith” is ultimately as unappealing as a rusty lock.

Screen Media Films released “The Locksmith” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 3, 2023.

Review: ‘American Murderer,’ starring Tom Pelphrey, Ryan Phillippe, Idina Menzel and Jacki Weaver

November 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tom Pelphrey in “American Murderer” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films and Lionsgate)

“American Murderer”

Directed by Matthew Gentile

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in 2004 and 2005 (with several flashbacks to previous years, going back to the 1970s) in Utah, California and Arizona, the crime drama film “American Murderer” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Longtime con man Jason Derek Brown goes on the run from the law after becoming the prime suspect in the shooting and killing of an armored car guard during a robbery.

Culture Audience: “American Murderer” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about true crime, but this dull and generic thriller leaves out a lot of important information in understanding the real people involved.

Ryan Phillippe in “American Murderer” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films and Lionsgate)

A movie about one of the FBI’s most-wanted criminals should have been intriguing. Unfortunately, the crime drama “American Murderer” wastes the talents of the cast members to deliver a boring story that relies heavily on superficial flashbacks that don’t answer questions. The movie is poorly structured and repetitive in all the wrong ways.

Written and directed by Matthew Gentile, “American Murderer” is about Jason Derek Brown, a longtime con man who was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for 17 years. Brown is the prime suspect in the murder of Robert Keith Palomares, a 24-year-old armored car guard who was shot and killed during a robbery in Phoenix, Arizona, on November 29, 2004. Investigators say that the killer stole about $56,000 in cash during this deadly robbery.

A bicycle that the gunman used as the initial getaway vehicle was found not far from the crime scene. Brown’s fingerprints were on the bicycle. The shooter used a .45-caliber semiautomatic Glock pistol, which is the same type of gun that Brown was known to have. Brown, who was 35 in 2004, has been on the run ever since this robbery and murder. The charges against him are first-degree murder, armed robbery and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

This information is widely known, so it’s not spoiler information to a lot of people who might see the movie. And the film’s title is enough to tell viewers that a murder is going to happen in the movie, so there shouldn’t be any surprise when it does. Brown has not entered a plea to these accusations. And so, technically, until the case is resolved in a court of law, he’s innocent until proven guilty.

But those legal details (and many other details) are completely ignored in “American Murderer,” which has scenes showing Brown committing the crimes of which he’s accused, thereby declaring him guilty before Brown has answered to these charges. (For the purposes of this review, the real Brown will be referred to as Brown, while the character of Jason Brown in the movie will be referred to as Jason.) Even if the filmmakers wanted to stay neutral about declaring Brown guilty or not guilty of the murder, there are too many other problems with “American Murderer” that make it an unworthy story about this case.

“American Murderer” has a tedious and muddled timeline of events that don’t do very much to explain a lot of things that needed to be explained. The murder isn’t shown until 66 minutes into this 101-minute movie. The movie has so many flashbacks, even the flashbacks have flashbacks. The opening scene of “American Murderer” takes place on November 6, 2004, and depicts Jason (played by Tom Pelphrey) going into a pawn shop to sell a luxury watch and a wedding ring.

Viewers will see that Jason is a highly manipulative con man who can act a certain way, tell lies, and create personas of himself to serve whatever purpose that he has, which is usually to swindle people out of money. In this pawn shop scene, Jason tells the pawn broker (played by Chris Harvey) that the watch belonged to his late father, and the ring belonged to his deceased mother. Jason begins to cry when he talks about his mother, whom he says has recently died of pancreatic cancer.

However, Jason is composed enough to haggle over the purchase price for the jewelry. The pawn broker initially offers $1,000 to buy both items. It’s an amount that Jason thinks is unacceptable, so he and the pawn broker do some back-and-forth bargaining until they settle on $2,000 for the sale. Almost as soon as they make this agreement, Jason sees on the shop’s security camera that some rough-looking men are about to enter the pawn shop.

Jason knows who these men are, and he looks apprehensive. He rushes through the sale, gets the money, and asks the pawn shop broker if he can exit through the back door. The pawn shop broker, who’s used to dealing with shady people, can easily figure out what’s going on, and he doesn’t want any trouble in his shop. He lets Jason leave through the back. As soon as Jason makes a getaway in his car, Jason yells triumphantly to himself, “Fucking idiots!”

The next scene takes place at the FBI office in Salt Lake City, Utah, where special agent Lance Leising (played by Ryan Phillippe) is leading the FBI’s investigation to find Jason. This is where the movie’s sloppy screenwriting starts to show. Viewers who don’t know anything about Jason will be confused about the circumstances that would lead the FBI to look for Jason. Based on the title of the movie and the opening scene, viewers will know that Jason is not going to be the subject of an intense manhunt just because he might have sold some stolen jewelry at a pawn shop.

Jason is going to be a suspect for murder, but the “who, what, where, when and why” questions about the murder aren’t addressed until 66 minutes into the movie, when the actual murder takes place. Until then, viewers are kept in the dark (unless they already know the real-life story) about what exactly Jason did that has the FBI putting so many resources into looking for him. A better movie would have told the story in chronological order, or would have at least established from the beginning why Jason committed a federal crime that fell under the FBI’s jurisdiction.

Up until the murder scene, “American Murderer” shows mostly these two types of scenes: (1) interviews conducted by Lance and (2) flashbacks of Jason’s life before the murder was committed. One of the first people whom Lance is shown interviewing in Utah is a real-estate agent named Melanie Baker (played by Idina Menzel), a single mother who owns a house across the street from the house where she lives. For a period of time before the murder happened, Jason was her tenant in the rental house. Jason told her that he and his brother had a successful business importing and exporting golf equipment from Asia.

During the interview, Lance mentions that some of Melanie’s neighbors think that Melanie and Jason had an intimate relationship. Melanie denies that she and Jason ever had sex or dated, but flashbacks show that Melanie is lying. While Jason was signing the rental contract, Jason was very flirtatious and asked her on a date, but she declined the offer because she said that she had to be home when her son leaves school for the day. Still, it’s obvious she’s attracted to him, Jason knows it, and they both act on that attraction later.

Melanie has a son named Zachary “Zach” Baker (played by Asher James), who’s about 11 or 12 years old. Flashbacks show that Jason quickly charmed himself into Melanie’s and Zach’s lives. Jason and Melanie began having sex with each other. Jason got Zach to like him by secretly playing video games with him that Melanie won’t allow Zach to play. Jason also began acting like Melanie’s boyfriend by helping take care of Zach, having meals and sleepovers at Melanie’s place, and buying gifts for Zach and Melanie.

Melanie has this to say about Jason in her interview with Lance: “Maybe he was a little ostentatious and rubbed people the wrong way, but when I needed Jason’s help, he really was there for me.” She adds, “Jason was really great with kids. With all the toys he had and money he threw around, he actually endeared himself to the neighborhood pretty quickly.”

A big problem with “American Murderer” is that it gives these snippets of information but not a full or meaningful picture. For example, it’s mentioned in the movie that Jason was a career con artist for years, but he was only arrested once before the 2004 armed robbery/murder happened. In a flashback scene taking place about eight years before the robbery/murder, Jason is shown stealing golf equipment from a store and being arrested for it the same day.

Even though his arrest for that theft is shown in the movie, “American Murderer” never shows or explains how or why he got away with so many other alleged crimes for so long. What happened to any investigations into his scams? What happened to the victims? Those questions are never answered in the movie.

“American Murderer” also doesn’t fill in many blanks that it creates about Jason’s family background. He was born in Los Angeles and raised in California’s Los Angeles/Orange County region. His parents divorced when he and his two siblings were underage children. There’s a late 1970s flashback scene showing Jason’s father David Brown Sr. (played by Kevin Corrigan) in a small motel room with Jason (played by Dayne Xavier Fox), Jason’s older brother David Brown Jr. (played by Adrian Perez) and Jason’s older sister Jamie Brown (played by Ryan Bingham). The kids are about 9 to 12 years old.

Jamie complains that she wants to go home. David Sr. tells the kids that they are with him because their mother didn’t fight hard enough for custody. Jamie says that he’s lying. David Sr. puts a large wad of cash in the motel room’s safe and gives David Jr. and Jason some money to go play arcade games. The boys are willing to do whatever their father wants, but Jamie is stubbornly mistrustful of David Sr.

This scene is an example of something that is put in the movie but ultimately doesn’t do anything but bring up questions that the movie (once again) never answers. How were these children really raised? What exactly was the custody arrangement after the divorce? This motel scene looks like David Sr. took the kids away from their mother without the mother’s consent, and he’s lying to the kids about it, but everything is so vague in this scene, it’s difficult to come to any conclusions.

Later in the movie, it’s mentioned that David Sr. disappeared in 1994, when Jason was 25 years old, and he still has not been found to this day. There’s nothing in the movie that explains how this disappearance affected Jason and the rest of the family. There’s not even a mention of what the family thinks happened to David Sr. to cause this disappearance.

“American Murderer” also shows that, in 2004, Jason’s mother really isn’t dead, like he claimed in the pawn shop scene. In 2004, Jason’s mother Jeanne Brown (played by Jacki Weaver) is alive and well and has had periods of estrangement from Jason because he’s a pathological liar who only contacts her when he wants money from her. She loves him but she’s become fed up with Jason and his con-artist ways.

One of the movie’s best scenes (in a movie that has very few good scenes) is when Jason and Jeanne have a confrontational argument when he shows up at her home unannounced, after not seeing or speaking to her for three years. Jason is there to ask Jeanne for $20,000 to invest in a business that they both know doesn’t really exist. Much credit should go to Weaver for her exemplary acting talent in this memorable scene, but she’s not in the movie long enough to save it from its shoddy storytelling.

After the 2004 robbery/murder, Jason’s older siblings Jamie (played by Shantel VanSanten) and David Jr. (played by Paul Schneider) come into contact with FBI agent Lance, who interviews them at different points in the movie. Jamie gives more information about Jason than David does. Jamie says their father David Sr. is probably why Jason turned into a criminal. But then, the movie cuts to that 1970s flashback scene of the family in the motel, which doesn’t show anything except that Jamie thinks her father is lying about their mother not caring enough about the kids to fight for custody for them.

“American Murderer” has a scene where Lance interviews a woman who knew Jason because she was his friend from high school. She briefly mentions that Jason used to be married and “a straight-laced Mormon missionary in France.” But don’t expect to see any scenes in the movie showing that part of Jason’s life. Instead, there are several repetitive flashbacks of Jason as a cocaine-snorting jerk who has a habit of partying at nightclubs, showing off whatever luxury car he got with money he scammed, and being a playboy. A better movie would have shown the massive contrasts between his Mormon missionary life and his criminal life that he would have later on.

“American Murderer” also has multiple scenes showing that Jason owed enough money where thugs were following him and sometimes beating him up. At one point, during one of these beatings, Jason is told that he needs to pay the $80,000 that he owes, or else something worse than a beating will happen to him. When an injured Jason tries to get a loan from a bank, his application is rejected. The loan officer (played by Sila Agavale), who notices Jason’s facial injuries, advises Jason to get out of town.

After he fails to get the money he needs, Jason (now living in the Phoenix area) starts planning to rob an armored truck after it picks up money from a movie theater. Jason wants to commit the robbery on a Monday, when he knows that the truck will be carrying cash from the weekend—the period of time when movie theaters do their biggest business of the week. One of the people who knew about Jason’s scheme was a drug buddy named Kyle Wallace (played by Moises Arias), who is interviewed by Lance.

In yet another flashback scene, Jason is shown snorting cocaine with Kyle at Kyle’s home when Jason tells Kyle about the robbery plan and asks Kyle to commit the robbery with him, but Kyle wants no part of it. Jason gets angry about this rejection, so he puts a gun to Kyle’s head in a threatening manner and pulls the trigger. Jason then tells Kyle that the gun is empty, and Jason laughs at Kyle, like it’s all one big joke. Kyle doesn’t think it’s funny at all, and he orders Jason out of his home, but Jason doesn’t want to leave.

Kyle is much smaller than Jason, but Kyle is very angry and gets in a physical scuffle with Jason, which catches Jason off guard. When Jason sees that Kyle is not easily intimidated by him, Jason switches gears and makes profuse apologies for the gun “prank,” but Kyle is unmoved. Kyle manages to cut Jason out of his life by ignoring Jason’s persistent attempts to recruit Kyle for help with the robbery.

In his portrayal of this notorious criminal, Pelphrey seems to be making an effort to depict Jason as a complex “Jekyll and Hyde” personality, but that effort can only go so far when the movie’s screenplay and direction are so shallow and limited. Phillippe’s Lance Leising character is based on the real FBI investigator of the same name, but the character is written and portrayed as very bland and extremely generic. “American Murderer” is just a jumbled mess of scenes that don’t add up to anything but a tedious and substandard “criminal investigation” movie that fails to offer impactful insights into the real people involved in this case.

Saban Films and Lionsgate released “American Murderer” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on October 28, 2022.

Review: ‘Brothers by Blood,’ starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Joel Kinnaman, Maika Monroe, Paul Schneider and Ryan Phillippe

January 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Matthias Schoenaerts and Joel Kinnaman in “Brothers by Blood” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Brothers by Blood”

Directed by Jérémie Guez

Culture Representation: Taking place in Philadelphia, the crime drama “Brothers by Blood” features an almost all-white cast (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class, the middle-class and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Two cousins who work for the Irish mobsters in Philadelphia have their loyalties tested due to family secrets and involvement with Italian mobsters.

Culture Audience: “Brothers by Blood” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching generic and tedious movies about “thug life.”

Ryan Phillippe and Felix Scott in “Brothers by Blood” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Brothers by Blood” makes a half-hearted attempt to be a compelling crime drama, but the movie still ends up being formulaic and forgettable. It’s one of those mobster movies where two family members have an up-and-down relationship that propels much of what happens in the story. The problem is that all of the characters in the movie are derivative of other characters in much-better mafia films. “Brothers by Blood” is essentially a cheap wannabe Martin Scorsese gangster film.

Written and directed by Jérémie Guez, “Brothers by Blood” is based on Peter Dexter’s novel “Brotherly Love.” The original title of the movie was “The Sound of Philadelphia” (the city where the movie is based), and it’s easy to see why the title was changed, because “The Sound of Philadelphia” could mislead people into thinking it’s a music-oriented movie. Philadelphia is nicknamed the City of Brotherly Love, but the only love in this movie is tainted by brutal crimes and paranoia about betrayal.

The two main characters in “Brothers by Blood” are cousins Peter (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) and Michael (played by Joel Kinnaman), who own a small construction business that’s really a money-laundering front for the illegal work that the cousins do for the Irish mafia in Philadelphia. Peter is the introverted, level-headed cousin, while Michael is the extroverted, hot-headed cousin. Crime dramas often have a cliché of opposite personalities who have to work together and often clash with each other. “Blood Brothers” leans into this cliché hard enough to the point of over-reliance and stifling any depth for other parts of the story.

It’s very easy to see where this movie is going to go, once it’s established that Michael has a tendency to make impulsive and dumb decisions. About 70% of “Brothers by Blood” is a monotonous plot repetition of Michael doing idiotic things, while Peter tries to smooth things over and clean up Michael’s mess. Most of the movie takes place in 2016, but there are several flashbacks to Peter’s and Michael’s childhood, shown from Peter’s perspective.

Michael is impulsive and erratic, but Peter isn’t exactly mentally stable either. The opening scene shows that Peter has suicidal tendencies. In this nighttime scene, Michael and Peter are on the rooftop of one of their construction sites and listening to a friend drone on about a proctology exam that he recently had. (Yes, it’s that kind of movie.)

Peter steps onto the edge of the roof and suddenly jumps. Michael and the friend race to the street and see that Peter has landed in a very large pile of garbage and hasn’t been physically hurt. While their buddy is freaking out, Peter offers no explanation for why he jumped, while Michael says nonchalantly about Peter’s disturbing jump: “He does that all the time.”

It’s shown early in the movie that Michael and Peter have shady dealings with a local councilman named Taylor (played by Tim Ahern), who tells the cousins that he’s under ethical scrutiny for hiring six of his relatives, so he had to cut these family members loose from his employment. Taylor asks Michael and Peter to find jobs for these relatives at Michael and Peter’s construction company, even if these relatives aren’t qualified. During this office meeting with Taylor, a Republican presidential debate is shown on TV, and Michael predicts that Donald Trump is going to win the election.

One night, Peter and Michael end up drinking at a restaurant/bar owned by their friend Jimmy (played by Paul Schneider), who confides in Peter that he borrowed a lot of money from Michael to keep Jimmy’s business afloat. Peter tells Jimmy it’s a mistake to be in debt to Michael, but Jimmy is too drunk at the moment to heed any warnings. It’s later revealed that Michael has his own money problems that will get the cousins into trouble.

While they’re at the bar, Jimmy introduces his younger sister Grace (played by Maika Monroe) to Peter and Michael. She’s recently arrived from out of town, and Jimmy has given her a job as a bartender. Michael immediately flirts with Grace. However, Peter and Grace eye each other in a way that it’s obvious that these two will end up together in some way later in the movie.

“Brothers by Blood” also has poorly written subplots about Peter’s and Michael’s business interests aside from their construction company and thugging around with mobsters. Peter wants to possibly invest in boxing. He goes to a local boxing gym, where his acquaintance Carlos (played by Carlos Schram) is training a promising young boxer named Ryan (played by Tarek Hamite), who is living with Carlos because Ryan’s father is a “crackhead,” according to Carlos.

Michael is more interested in investing in horse racing. He’s bought a horse for $80,000, with the hope that the horse can be trained into becoming a champion. But something happens with Michael’s horse-racing investment, and how he handles it shows how much he’s an out-of-control loose cannon. In another scene in the movie, Michael can’t stand the thought of Peter being successful at anything without him, so Michael makes their hanger-on friend Leonard, nicknamed Lenny (played by James Nelson-Joyce), box Ryan in the ring. Lenny quickly and soundly gets beaten by Ryan, and that defeat aggravates Michael, who holds grudges.

Because of some debts and double-crossing, Michael has managed to anger the Italian mafia in Philadelphia. And so, a goon named Bono (played by Antoni Corone) from the Italian mafia has a threatening meeting with Peter and warns him that the Italian mafia will come after the cousins unless Peter kills Michael. Peter tells Bono that he won’t kill Michael. The rest of the story is about how much danger these two cousins get themselves into, as Michael continues with his screw-ups and some people inevitably get hurt or killed.

“Brothers by Blood” has frequent flashbacks to Peter’s childhood. It’s revealed that his seemingly happy life went on a downward spiral when he was 8 years old (Nicholas Crovetti portrays Peter as a boy) and witnessed his younger sister (played by Grace Bilik) accidentally get killed when she ran out into the street and was hit by a car. The car’s driver was a cop named Victor Kopec (played by Michael McFadden), who lives nearby. And Peter’s ill-tempered father Charley (played by Ryan Philippe) vows revenge.

A childhood flashback shows that Peter’s life gets even worse when his grieving mother has a nervous breakdown and she’s put in a psychiatric hospital, which is talked about but not shown in the movie. Peter’s father Charley is obsessed with getting revenge on Victor. Michael’s father Phil (played by Felix Scott), who is Charley’s brother, vehemently disagrees with Charley’s plan to murder Victor, because Charley and Phil are already involved with the Irish mafia. If Charley becomes a cop killer, it could cause problems for the brothers, not only with the police but also with the mafia.

Like a lot of derivative mobster flicks, “Brothers by Blood” limits the female characters in very sexist and shallow ways. Grace is the only female character with a significant speaking role in the film, and she’s really just there to be a potential love interest for Peter. Writer/director Guez has such little regard for Peter’s sister (whose death is the catalyst for a lot of the family drama) that he didn’t even give her a name in the story. In the end credits, she’s only labeled “Little Girl.” And Peter’s mother is reduced to being a nameless, background character who’s briefly shown sobbing over the death of her daughter.

Despite solid performances from Schoenaerts and Phillippe, “Brothers by Blood” could be called “Brothers by Boredom,” since this so-called gangster film has a lot of dull talk and not much action. Too much of the movie is about Michael being a swaggering fool and pulling guns on people, while Peter just stands around looking embarrassed and occasionally steps in to stop Michael from making things worse. We get it. These cousins are dysfunctionally co-dependent.

Peter’s childhood flashbacks are more interesting than the storyline with the adult Peter and adult Michael, because the flashbacks give some insight into how and why Michael and Peter ended up being so close. Their family experienced more tragedy besides the death of Peter’s sister. But this backstory isn’t enough to save “Brothers by Blood” from being a hollow and drab movie with a completely predictable ending.

Vertical Entertainment released “Brothers by Blood” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 22, 2021.

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