Don't expect much action or entertainment from this modern-day gangster film: It's the mumbly internal struggle of a man who wants out of the crime family he was born into. Brothers by Blood opens on someone who looks down and out drinking and smoking and telling his pals about going to the proctologist -- and then he jumps off of a tall building. He turns out to be Peter, the movie's lead character, and he survives. But his desperation to escape sets the tone for a film that shows just how undesirable the life of organized crime can be. The story proceeds to roll back and show a series of childhood tragedies that diverts the direction of Peter's life, as well as that of his cousin, Michael. The upsetting events affect Peter's dad (Ryan Phillippe), the mob boss who reacts to an accident with the entitled aggression of someone emboldened by a life of getting away with criminal acts. Through young Peter's eyes, we see how kids absorb information and adults' actions, juxtaposed with his grown-up insight into what those incidents really meant.
While there may be lessons here to learn, there's also not much that's enjoyable -- especially for teens. Adults may appreciate the story of a good man finding himself stuck in a bad situation. Having grown up immersed in a life of crime, Peter numbly goes through the motions, believing that staying "in" allows him to prevent his family's situation from getting worse. But Michael has become drunk with power, and his behavior is spiraling out of control. Peter speaks truth to power, but not enough -- and he knows it. Is he calculating in choosing when to counter his cousin -- or is he a coward? The film is a bore -- and, worse, it's hard to suspend your disbelief. The lack of authenticity might very well come from the cultural mishmash: This is a Dutch-Belgian production of an American story about Irish descendants taking on Italians. And then there's the nagging visual conundrum staring you in the face: In no way does Schoenaerts look Irish, nor could he possibly be Phillippe son. And then there's the "free pass." Toward the beginning, Peter threatens to just leave and go to Hawaii, and Michael tells him he should. As the film continues, we can't help but wonder, why is he still there? Or, as we keep watching, why are we?