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It could always get worse. That’s the central message of Blood and Money, a new film that mixes crime thrills with a tale of survival in Maine’s harsh wilderness. Our hero Jim Reed, played by Tom Berenger, is not resourceful or a brilliant tactician. He is stoic and grumpy, lumbering through the plot as if the criminals who threaten his life simply inconvenience him. By the time writer-director John Barr moves his film toward an inevitable conclusion, a halfhearted shrug is all he can inspire.
Jim is a veteran who spends his winters hunting in Maine’s nearly impenetrable forests. Berenger is best known for films like Platoon and Major League, and, now that he is a bit older, his gruff acting style is more wooden. Barr responds by shooting in long takes, giving his actors plenty of time to dodder through the frame.
He stumbles into the plot by accident: He thinks he has shot a deer, except he has shot a random woman instead. He does not know where she came from, and his confusion is mostly tied to his usual solitude. Unsure what to do next, he discovers that she was a thief who stole more than $1 million from a casino, and her accomplices are still at large. He returns to the scene of the crime, takes the money, and finds himself pursued by angry, violent men who are desperate in the bitter cold.
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The most obvious comparison for Blood and Money is A Simple Plan, an underrated Sam Raimi thriller in which a group of men also stumble upon a bag of money in the wilderness. Raimi’s thriller is psychological, with the hapless criminals making one bad decision after another, with disastrous moral consequences. There is no such curiosity here: Jim is one dimensional and taciturn, while his pursuers are one dimensional and cruel.
At just under 90 minutes, and despite very little dialogue, Barr’s feature-length debut has an impressive number of f-bombs. They mostly come from Berenger, who is understandably unhappy when his car is torched and when he falls into an icy river. Berenger has been playing tough guys for decades, but his limited vocabulary and range diminish the authenticity.
To his credit, Barr films the action with efficient clarity. It is always clear where Jim fits in relation to the thieves, and there is a bleakness in what little they say to each other. The script is economical, and sometimes ruthless. It features a clumsy scene where Jim provokes the criminals, and the blunt language is a major part of why his provocation is so effective. There are subplots that are introduced and then go nowhere, and Jim’s backstory is a mess of “tough guy” tropes.
There is little escapism in Blood and Money, or sense of catharsis. Jim is not especially likable, and if Berenger aspired to be an antihero, it does not show. Instead, this film is a reminder of why Berenger never quite achieved leading man status. He is effective in smaller roles, like the aforementioned Platoon or even Inception, but his deadpan style lacks the charisma and grace that you find in a more conventional star. Jim punches, shoots, and curses his way through the wilderness, and his feelings on the entire ordeal remain maddeningly obtuse.
Blood and Money is available beginning May 15 on VOD platforms.