US-cinematographer John Barr has delivered his directing debut with BLOOD AND MONEY and has Hollywood star Tom Berenger to boot. Which is just as well, seeing how this story of, eh, blood and stolen money is like a powder keg that never quite ignites and is only held together by its main star.

Jim Reed (Berenger) is a loner and war veteran who clearly struggles with his own demons though we only find out gradually (and by means of wasted screen time) what these demons might be. He’s also rather ill (though we are never told what exactly is wrong with him) – what with coughing up blood and in need of countless tablets. His age and physical unfitness, which is only too apparent, further work against him. Still, he’s stomping through knee-high snow in the remote and frozen wilderness of Maine’s Allagash region to hunt deer (sometimes legal, sometimes not) which he then delivers to certain folk. Indeed, the first half of the film seems to be taken up by Jim’s routine which also involves lying in his campervan bed pondering over the meaning of life. Or death. Occasionally he hits the nearest town (if you can call it that) where he lunches in the local diner, always served by Debbie (Kristen Hager) – a young woman who, as Jim points out, reminds him of his dearly missed daughter (we later learn his daughter is dead and it seems to have been his fault). Incidentally, Debbie happens to be the wife of George (Jimmy LeBlanc), a fellow war veteran who – just like Jim – struggles with his personal demons and whom Jim knows from his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Other than battling personal demons and devil alcohol, George seems a rather nice guy as opposed to Jim whose introvert and chilly façade isn’t easy to penetrate. While conversing at the diner Debbie asks Jim whether he’s heard of the brutal casino robbery the previous day which left three security guards dead and during which a gang of five escaped with more than $1.5 Million bucks. Jim replies he’s only heard bits and pieces about the robbery and thus isn’t aware of the full details. However, very soon he will be…

The following day he’s back in the snowy and frozen wilderness to hunt dear and indeed spots a proud-looking specimen but due to stiff fingers from the cold weather (or perhaps due to his poor physical state) Jim misses. Seconds later he hears a noise behind some trees and shoots again. Stomping through the snow to collect his trophy Jim is shocked to discover that instead of the deer he has shot a young woman who’s now on the ground dying from the shotgun wounds. Panic-stricken, Jim decides to drive away instead of reporting the incident and hits the next bar. It is here that he happens to look at the TV-newsflash and recognises the woman he has just shot as one of the robbers. Several hours later, while back in his camper, it occurs to him that he had left a cigarette stump at the scene of the crime. Now, this particularly cigarette brand (Bilson) doesn’t seem too popular with all the other characters inhabiting Jim’s world for he firmly believes that – should the corpse be discovered – the carelessly dropped cigarette stump will be enough of a lead to incriminate him for murder…. And he is on his way back to the murder site, hoping the corpse is still there. Fortunately it is. Beside the dead woman is a huge bag which contains – would you believe it – the stolen money! This time round he doesn’t just make sure the cigarette stump is removed, he also grabs the bag of money. Unfortunately our tormented anti-hero doesn’t get very far because the remaining robbers turn up out of nowhere – just like that and at precisely that very moment in this huge wilderness… I mean, what are the odds for something like that to happen? As if it weren’t enough of a coincidence Jim’s pal George also turns up at this very moment – out hunting (or whatever) and obviously baffled upon seeing Jim: “What are YOU doing here?”
Neither men have much time to be baffled for the robbers have now spotted them and when Jim (in contrast to George who doesn’t have the foggiest as to what’s going on) yells “Run! Run now!” our lads try to make for a lucky escape though minutes later hapless George turns out to be the unlucky one… while Jim hides the booty in an icy cave before he proceeds to eliminate one robber after another who of course are adamant in eliminating him. At first he succeeds in bumping off one robber while killing the second one proves more tricky when both he and Jim end up in an icy cold stream… Soaked to the bone and with the rest of the thugs having set his van on fire, Jim has no other option than to spend the night in the cave… and burning some of the money if he wants to keep warm and stay alive. Talk about money to burn – there’s irony for you! In the end Jim does get his seemingly utter incompetent men but as one after another drops dead things don’t fare smooth for Jim either… not wishing to give the ending away but there’s a little surprise in store.

Yes, the goods are all laid bare here and director John Barr, who was also responsible for the script, could have turned this affair into a tense cat-and-mouse game between Jim and the robbers. Unfortunately the robbers seem to be so dumb and incompetent the mind boggles! Are we to believe that a bunch of ruthless men clever enough to rob a casino and get away with over one million bucks turn into stupid morons once placed in the wilderness? Tom Berenger makes the most of his character ‘Jim Reed’ but it is a character that lacks any kind of depth, which in turn makes it hard for viewers to relate to him. As for the rest of the cast – they are depicted in such a shallow manner that we don’t really care for them either. BLOOD AND MONEY is entertaining enough in its own unique way while at the same time it’s one hell of a missed opportunity.


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