Brothers by Blood

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Brothers by Blood Movie Poster Image
Violent but blah mob drama has drinking, tons of language.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No overtly positive messages, but it's evident that unchecked power is a threat to all, including the person in power.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Peter is the voice of reason and the only one who can guide his increasingly unstable cousin away from making rash and consequential decisions. He exerts self-control repeatedly, although there could be a debate about self-control vs. lack of courage. However, he's still a a part of a crime family that uses brute force to solve issues.


Several suicide attempts, including by a child. A child is shown being hit by a car. An animal is put to sleep. Threats and intimidation with weapons, particularly guns. A character is seen writhing in pain after being severely beaten. Shootings at close range. Real-life crime scene photos show dead people. Story of animal cruelty. Arson.


Two characters kiss passionately on a bed. A character reminisces about losing virginity as a preteen, presented positively.


Extremely strong, constant language: "a--hole," "d--k," "s--t," and countless uses of "f--k." Also "Jesus f--king Christ." Explicit language detailing a proctology exam. Menacing words.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mobsters smoke cigarettes. A negative character is seen snorting cocaine. Frequent drinking, including several scenes at a bar. Character drinks to excess. A father serves his child a beer, although it may be in an effort to dissuade him from drinking. Person described as a "crack head." Pills shown as visual explanation of an intentional overdose. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brothers by Blood is a gritty crime drama about the leaders of the Irish mob in Philadelphia. Unlike many other films about organized crime, it doesn't glamorize the lifestyle, and no one is shown living in luxury. In fact, most of the iffy content is presented as repugnant -- including smoking, cocaine use, and extremely strong (constant use of "f--k") and sometimes explicit language (in particular, a story about a proctology exam that's told in vivid detail). Flashbacks to the main character's traumatic experiences as a child crop up regularly, including the loss of his entire immediate family through car accidents and psychiatric issues. Human life isn't valued here: Suicide, murder, beatings, bloody shootings, and threats dominate the film. Teens might be upset by the off-camera death of animals, especially when an emotionally wrought character cries about his dogs' death. Expect heavy drinking, including several scenes at a bar. The movie's one sex scene isn't at all explicit: The characters, who've known each other for a long time, kiss on a bed, and it's implied that they had sex. 

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What's the story?

In BROTHERS BY BLOOD, Peter (Matthias Schoenaerts) is his cousin Michael's (Joel Kinnaman) right-hand man in the Philadelphia organized crime operation that they took over from their fathers. However, as Michael's behavior becomes more erratic and out of control, Peter wonders what it will take to stop him. The film, also known as The Sound of Philadelphia, is based on Peter Dexter's novel Brotherly Love.

Is it any good?

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?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Brothers by Blood demonstrates the saying "absolute power absolutely corrupts." What does that mean? 

  • How are violence, drinking, smoking, drug use, and strong language used to portray the characters and their way of life? Do you think it's all necessary to tell the story? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • What makes stories about gangsters and criminals interesting? Does this movie glamorize these people and their lives? How does it compare to other movies about organized crime in that regard?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love intense stories

Themes & Topics

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