Review: Bloodbrothers

Detailing the trials and troubles of a working class Italian-American family, where brothers Paul Sorvino and Tony Lo Bianco try to persuade the latter’s sensitive son (a slightly too old Richard Gere) to join them in the construction business. Gere has more of an interest in working with kids, and gets a job offer by doctor Floyd Levine at the local hospital. Dad of course, sees social work as woman’s work, and belligerently disapproves, but he gets some support from his waitress girlfriend (played by Marilu Henner). Meanwhile, Lo Bianco’s frustrated wife Lelia Goldoni has become mentally unstable and her lashing out at their youngest son (Michael Hershwe) has led to his anorexia. Kenneth McMillan plays a disabled bartender, whilst various well-known character actors and faces play construction workers (Danny Aiello, Robert Costanzo, Eddie Jones, etc).

This 1978 Robert Mulligan (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) tale about a seriously dysfunctional Italian-American family is too broadly played, stereotyped, and overly familiar to have much resonance today. Scripted by an Oscar-nominated Walter Newman (“The Magnificent Seven”, “The Man With the Golden Arm”) from a novel by Richard Price (“The Colour of Money”, “Sea of Love”), it’s pretty much all over the shop, as are the performances. Tony Lo Bianco and especially an unrestrained Lelia Goldoni are the worst offenders. Lo Bianco, often typecast as Italian-American hoods, gives us a stereotype of Italian-American machismo, misogyny, occasional brutality, and just general hamminess. Occasionally there seems to be a real character in there, but largely it’s just too much of a ‘performance’ and it is more fitting of the stage. His character is also largely unpleasant and uninteresting, especially the longer the film goes on. But at least he has his moments, which cannot be said for the ghastly Goldoni, whose shrieking, mugging, wailing performance, coupled with a pathetic, basically psychotic character derail the film. She’s truly awful, both character and actress. A young Richard Gere is a bit better, but with his phony Bronx Italian-American accent and somewhat lothario ways, it felt to me like Gere thought he was playing the role infused by the spirit of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. I also found his character’s arc frankly an uninteresting cliché, and at worst, it seems to be sending a dubious message about masculinity at times.

The most enjoyable work comes from Paul Sorvino, Marilu Henner, and Kenneth McMillan, although it’s also amusing to see a pre-Freddy Robert Englund playing a wannabe stud in a small part. Sorvino (an underrated and long wasted talent) hams it up a bit, but one sees that as more a character trait than indicative of his actual performance quality. He’s certainly the most decent character in the entire film, aside from maybe Gere. He has a particularly great scene pouring his heart out to gruff, wheelchair-bound bartender McMillan.

At the end of the day, this is all very shouty and somewhat overbearing stuff for a story that isn’t all that memorable to begin with. There are moments, but not enough for me. Although a bit dated, the music score by Elmer Bernstein (“To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Great Escape”, “The Magnificent Seven”) is the most appealing thing in this film.

Rating: C+


  1. Intended to be the superior "art film" answer to the overwhelming zeitgeist exploding all around the disco-centric "Saturday Night Fever", time had it's way of revealing the cruelest irony of all, in as much as "Fever's" pop-culture Bee Gees superficialities melted away to reveal the truly searing socio-political critique it actually was, thereby rendering it utterly timeless, as all true art eventually proves to be, whereas "Bloodbrothers" poorly acted, ill-conceived unfaithfully compromised execution revealed it to be nothing more than a crass attempt to steal another film's box-office thunder, thereby relegating this hoped-for "superior art film" to the forgotten dustbin of cinema history.

  2. That's an interesting take. To be honest, I've never seen many similarities between the two films. I loathe "Saturday Night Fever" to be honest.

  3. Well, Mr. McDonald, far be it from me to not say that you're certainly entitled to your opinion, but if you loathe "Saturday Night Fever" (an assessment that I personally don't share in the least) it's rather understandable that you might not be particularly sensitive to the similarities between the two films. I will say that upon seeing "Bloodbrothers" on DVD again after all these many years, your review is far too's an embarrassingly overblown cringingly god-awful fiasco, certainly deserving of it's obscurity. The fact that Walter Newman received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay (which completely violated the dark integrity of Richard Price's acclaimed novel by tacking on a cheaply facile "hopeful" happy ending) not only reveals the utter depravity of The Academy, but in my opinion, only heightens the value of the great Norman Wexler's uncompromisingly hard-core script (complete with a no-holds-barred tragic ending) for "Saturday Night Fever".

    And, what, I wonder, could be "loathsome" about that? As far as the similarities are concerned between the two films, to me they seem pretty obvious: Italian-Catholic working class milieu, repressive machismo and violent entrapment, adolescent turmoil and dysfunctional social/familial dynamics, even a character named "Annette" (Marilu Henner/Donna Pescow). Director Robert Mulligan had absolutely no feel for the material, Richard Gere's performance is half-baked imitation "Method" acting mannerisms,
    Paul Sorvino and Tony Lo Bianco both come off like a cartoon Itaiian-American Jerry Lewis on crack cocaine, and the visually the film looks like it was shot through mud.

    "Saturday Night Fever" loathsome, you say? "Bloodbrothers" makes "Saturday Night Fever" look like "Citizen Kane".

  4. "Italian-Catholic working class milieu, repressive machismo and violent entrapment, adolescent turmoil and dysfunctional social/familial dynamics..." Aside from Marilu Henner, you could be describing a LOT of American films of the 70s.

    What I found loathesome about "Fever" was 'How Deep is Your Love' being played every five minutes (I like the song, but geez...), John Travolta's awful performance ('My hair! He touched my hair!') and a bunch of boring characters played, I must say, in extremely wooden fashion. I realise I'm in the minority, however, and it's a cult phenomenon. "Bloodbrothers" is uneven, but the only good thing I have to say about "Fever" is that "Stayin' Alive" is even worse. That's just my take, though.

  5. What does the amount of times "How Deep Is Your Love" was played or not played have to do with judging the artistic merits
    of the film? Across the largest professional critical consensus, '"Saturday Night Fever" continues to this day to be referred to as "canonical" and a "modern classic", neither as a cult, or a passing phenomena, or kitsch.

    But that's just my take, though.

  6. The soundtrack is an integral part of the film, to this day the most talked about aspect of the film, and as much as I like the song, it gets old fast, and contributed to my bad mood greatly. You're right on the critical consensus, but I don't consider critical consensus when forming my own opinion. LOL, I'm the guy who liked "Jonah Hex" and "An American Haunting", so I'm used to being on my own.

  7. Hooray for intellectual independence! As far as the soundtrack being "the most talked about aspect to this day", maybe that's true
    amongst the Internet-fed masses of Johnny-come-lately consumerist retro-hipster dilettantes, but if one were to objectively survey
    any really serious criticism written about SNF within, say the last decade or so, (Richard Brody's essay in "The New Yorker" to cite one example) the music is frequently discussed within the context of unfortunately obscuring, through the unavoidable prism of cultural nostalgia, the most potent and artistically enduring elements of the picture, most specifically it's critique of organized religion, the American class system, the hegemonies of race and gender, of "leisure time management" by way of the discotheque,which essentially functions as a mandated arena to contain and "manage" the dangerous energies of social rebellion, alienation, sexual frustration, and lack of opportunity which if expressed openly could lead to violent political upheaval, and instead turns inward towards cruelty, conformity, and death, and how the main character's escape from this officiated Western value system is ambiguous and tentative, and although it's a physical escape from the neighborhood, or from one place to another, it must also be a moral, intellectual, and spiritual escape as well, if it's to be a lasting and ultimately realistic one.

    In my opinion, if anything keeps "stayin alive", it's not JUST the music, it's also the message.

    1. I must confess I haven't kept abreast of the current critical analysis of "Saturday Night Fever", so you might be right, and it's very interesting how things change like that over the years.


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