Review: Posing as a Crime Drama, Brothers By Blood Is Barely Worth Watching

Less a nuanced examination of small-time underworld behavior in the city of Brotherly Love and more a collection of lame tough-guy behaviors and dialogue, Brother by Blood (which is also going by the name The Sound of Philadelphia for some reason) is based on the book Brotherly Love by Peter Dexter, and was adapted and directed by Jérémie Guez. The story involves two cousins, raised together since they were kids, who grew up surrounded by Irish criminal elements so naturally they take up the family business of…doing crime stuff. Joel Kinnaman is tough guy Michael, who gets a little power hungry and territorial, especially when the more organized Italian mob wants to move in and take over some of their territories. Reacting impulsively, Michael takes the first step toward an all-out war, while the more pragmatic Peter (Matthias Schoenaerts) wants to negotiate with the Italians so that everybody is happy.

Brothers by Blood Image courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

The rift between the cousins continues to grow as Michael opts for violence, even against their oldest friends, including a restaurant owner (Paul Schneider) and childhood pal who made the mistake of borrowing money from Michael. The owner’s sister, Grace (Maika Monroe), is back in town trying to help him. She and Peter start sniffing around each other, but it’s clear she thinks Peter can help get Michael off her brother’s back.

There are also seemingly unconnected scene we see interspersed throughout the film that turn out to be flashbacks into Peter’s childhood during a transitionary period when his criminal father (Ryan Phillippe) is mortified when his daughter is accidentally hit by a neighbor’s car, the owner of which happens to be a police officer. Phillippe gets his revenge, but there’s a price for his actions, and as a result, young Peter is forced to live with his uncle and cousin, so we’re given something of an origin story for this brotherly bond that is now falling apart.

There isn’t an actor in this film that I don’t really like in just about any role. But even in this story of loyalties tested, betrayal, and extreme violence, no one really rises above the material to make Brothers by Blood anything worth watching. Some of the performers, especially Monroe, are insultingly underused here. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the film feels like a crime movie made my someone who’d heard about crime movies but had never actually seen one. And by the time the somewhat brutal climax is over, my only thought was “That’s how they’re ending this? Okay.” That’s about as enthusiastic as I got watching this one.

The film is now available via VOD.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.