The title of John Barr’s glum and equally taut “Blood and Money” is an unimaginative movie title, but the movie is not. While certainly a mixed bag, the film goes from feeling lethargic to engrossing from reel to reel. How do we know this? Well, for one thing, there’s a tragedy that occurs in the movie that alters the course of the narrative that instantly hooks you where you can’t help but not anticipate what will happen next.
And the central character himself, Jim Reed (Tom Berenger), ends up accidentally shooting a mysterious woman while hunting in the woods in the upper regions of Maine. He’s so startled by the accident and even more stunned after the woman he shoots warns: “You’re a dead man.” He then notices a duffel bag contained with larges sums of cash money. He runs off with the money, confused with nowhere to turn to, with no family, he has the urge to keep the money but his conscience tells him to return back to the incident.
It’s practical that Jim would be drawn to the money at first. He is a retired Vietnam war veteran who drinks, lives in a confined camper, and he has underlying health issues as he coughs up blood and fails to seek any medical attention for it. He is also disconnected from his family that we never see, but only hear about in the film. It commendable that Barr brings some character depth in otherwise feels like a throwback to ’90s era action movies like “Surviving the Game” or even something like Joe Carnahan’s “The Gray”. Like those films, Barr uses the natural beauty of our world to his advantage. There is a lot of natural beauty raging from forests to wintry mountains that add to the tautness of the film.
Jim has no friends, except he holds great sympathy for Debbie (Kristen Hagar), a waitress at a local diner Jim attends–who in which is experiencing some type of financial difficulty. After returning back home after the tragedy, he finds out the money is in fact the loot from a casino robbery. The following day he returns back to the woods with the duffel bag, he ends up stumbling into something even more dangerous once he observes from a far distant the casino robbers are out searching for the money. Jim finds his life in peril as these robbers will certainly kill with no negotiations.
What unravels is a straightforward cat-and-mouse action film through the wintry landscapes of Maine. Jim, is certainly outnumbered, and he must protect himself while putting his body and health at a great risk in order to make it out of the cold and snowy forest. The uniqueness of the film is in fact the setting, it becomes almost like a main character of the film. The setting truly adds to the mood and suspense of the film, it is ideal setting that anchors the movie from being bland or uneventful. The use of wide-shots and foreground shots of trees are utilized to its advantage, Barr was also the cinematographer on this. Observing Berenger struggle through the snow, catch his breath at the trees, and battle his way through such severe conditions is quite commanding considering his age.
Barr also avoids mocking Mainers in the film too, which we have seen happen in numerous films that patronize and condescend the characters. Barry gives some sophistication and maturity with the simple story, the film becomes a small character study set during the course of two days as a man unwinding from his own sudden circumstances.\
The atmosphere of the film is almost perfect. Which is in part why it all feels so planned, more like a lite Coen Bros. film done without ever trying to be self-reflexive. Sadly, on a writing and directing level, the film needed greater suspense and staging of action pieces. There are many quiet moments, yet nothing ever feels too much at stake when in fact so much is in fact at stake. With even greater set-pieces, more tension, and possibly even more slow-burn build up one would find in stronger films about a man being hunted in nature, this film could have felt less lethargic on a technical level.
The supporting cast is also convincing. Mark Siversten delivers a convincing villain, but a few more scenes would have anchored his character more into a more compelling and menacing character. Oscar-nominated actor Berenger is quite good too, its mostly a muted and broken performance about a hunter who becomes hunted, and Berenger is in almost every scene.
“Blood and Money” is a taut suspense-drawer that merges suspense with character driven sensibilities. It is commanding how Barr put all the small resources he was able to work with into making a small indie in his native state. The film may not be as rousing as “The Revenant” or brood with the suspense of something like”The Gray”, but it is still a polished and thrilling work that should impress action movie fans that don’t feel like their intelligence or senses are being assaulted.