It’s hard to miss out on “Sons of Philadelphia”, if you follow everything Matthias Schoenaerts does. In mafia without the knowledge of his own free will, the Belgian actor offers, here, one of his most taciturn roles.
Film noir rather than gangster film, this is how the French director characterizes Jeremie Guez son “Sons of Philadelphia”, which is based on the novel by the American Pete Dexter, “A brotherly love”. Shot partly in the studio and partly in Philadelphia, this feature film plunges us into a gang war raging in the 70s. Except that the director has opted for a current reading of the novel and therefore, in the image, the action takes place today.
From the beginning of the story, we have the impression of dealing with losers with a cursed soul. And this will be confirmed as and when. Matthias Schoenaerts camp Peter, an Irishman whose father was murdered by his uncle and whose sister died when hit by a car. Her character seems to carry this tragic double burden on her shoulders. In the literal sense. Introverted but not unfriendly, he was raised by his uncle, another Irishman linked to a gang, or gang leader – it is not clear -, and grew up with his cousin. Embodied by Joel Kinnaman, – which we have seen in “House of Cards” as well as in “Suicide Squad” and “Millenium: men who did not like women” -, this cousin will gradually slip into the skin of a real bastard…
“Sons of Philadelphia” Trailer
Inspired by Melville
The gangster movie here is never glamorous, nor bling-bling. And if we happen to think about what Scorsese succeeded in the genre, it must be admitted that with “Sons of Philadelphia”, one is not in Scorsese. After all, the director does not claim to match the master and claims to have been inspired by Melville.
If it’s not pretentious, it’s sometimes a little confusing and boring. Perhaps because the images are often gray, perhaps because, in the end, we have no empathy for any of the protagonists … Not even for the brave Schoenaerts who is trying to save a young boxer, an injured horse, an associate who did not understand that he was being extorted by the cousin, or even the cousin whose soul could not be saved …
And yet, Matthias Schoenaerts cared about this character. He signs up in the tradition of “De rouille et d’os”. But with less intensity than in the above. It would probably have been necessary to dig a little deeper into the psychology of this lonely guy who, on at least two occasions, admits to being ready to “break in Hawaii” and to leave his cousin and his clique in their spiral of violence. The enemies, the gang of Italians, are, ultimately, very little apparent in this “Sons of Philadelphia”. And without good enemies, a film noir isn’t, in our opinion, strong enough.
by Jérémie Guez, with Matthias Schoenaerts, Joel Kinnaman and Ryan Philippe.