In Films by David Watson

In a shabby, nameless, seaside town the brutal murder of a 12-year-old girl has dark consequences for cop brothers Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie Fairbairn (Stephen Graham).  After finding voyeuristic photos of the victim and other girls in his possession, the brothers quickly identify smirking local kiddie fiddler and religious nut Jason Buleigh (the excellent Ben Crompton) as the main suspect but are forced to release him due to a lack of evidence.

Egged on by their increasingly senile father Lenny (Brian Cox), a brutal retired cop given to fondly reminiscing about the good old days of vigilante justice (when if you couldn’t batter a confession out of the baddies you took them on a one-way ride out to the local estuary), Joe and Chrissie take Buleigh for a drive, intending to put the frighteners on him and fit him up.  However Joe, whose daughter is around the same age as the victim, goes too far and, in a booze-fuelled rage, beats Buleigh to death.

Desperately trying to cover their tracks, like many a noir hero before them the brothers find themselves investigating their own crime.  But when the true killers are caught, Joe and Chrissie are shattered by the realisation they’ve killed an innocent man.  Haunted by the sins of his past and tortured by guilt, Joe becomes increasingly erratic and dependent on alcohol, arousing the suspicions of their dogged, by-the-book colleague Robert (Mark Strong).

Don’t worry if you experience an overwhelming sense of déjà vu while watching director Nick Murphy’s moody, brooding, downbeat Blood.  If you think you’ve seen it all before, that’s because you have.  Based on the Beeb’s 2004 crime drama Conviction, with its dodgy cops, dark deeds and practically Biblical morality Blood is a gloomy rag bag of noir clichés and face-slappingly ludicrous plotting (would two cops really take their doolally dad, who has a habit of blabbing, out a’murdering with them?) that slims down the original 6-hour drama into a malnourished hour-and-a-half yet still manages to feel ponderous, squandering the talents of one of the best British ensembles in years.

In a triumph of casting that’s as head-scratching as the plot, Blood asks us to believe Bettany and Graham are the fraternal progeny of Cox (none of whom share a consistent accent despite being possibly three of the best actors the UK has to offer), a situation that would surely lead the three detectives to immediately deduce that Cox’s dead wife dallied with the milkman.  Similarly, their performances are as all over the shop as their accents with Bettany’s swaggering top cop descending into a twitchy, violent, guilt-wracked bundle of neuroses, Cox chewing the scenery as the old senile liability while the dependable Graham subtly underplays.  As the women in the brothers’ lives Natasha Little and Zoe Tapper are wholly superfluous but there’s strong support from Mark Strong as the cop on their case, a surprisingly good turn from Adrian Edmondson as an anxious agoraphobic witness and the skin-crawling Crompton as the doomed paedophile.

Ultimately, despite a top-drawer cast and moody atmosphere, Blood is a plod drama that really plods.