In the drizzly, grayish-blue policier Blood, Paul Bettany plays a detective who kills a suspect in a fit of anger. When it becomes obvious that the man was innocent, Bettany finds himself caught in a double web of guilt and paranoia. Screenwriter Bill Gallagher has told this story before, as the 2004 BBC series Conviction; for this adaptation, he excises much of the original’s knottiness in order to focus on a handful of core themes. The result is a tight, raincoats-flapping-in-the-wind crime drama whose only major misstep is the decision to dramatize Bettany’s inner turmoil by having him interact with the ghost of his victim. This move is both redundant and counterproductive because it weakens one of the screenplay’s central conceits—the way Bettany’s guilt is shared and experienced by other characters.
Bettany’s brother and father—played by Stephen Graham and Brian Cox respectively—witness his crime; both cops, they come to represent different variations on Bettany’s moral rot. Graham is so overwhelmed by guilt that he begins undermining his brother’s cover-up; Cox, a once-fearsome detective now in the throes of dementia, can’t recall who killed the suspect or when, occasionally believing that he is remembering a crime he committed. Meanwhile, Mark Strong—perfectly cast as a straight-arrow loner colleague—starts looking for the missing suspect; if for Bettany’s family the law represents a bond between broken individuals, then for Strong it serves as the calling that isolates him from everyone else.
By re-setting the story to the gray seasides of England’s Wirral Peninsula, director Nick Murphy (The Awakening) gives Bettany’s crime a fitting visual backdrop. The characters become figures framed against an expanse of sea and wet sand; the beach becomes a metaphor for their moral and mental states, a vast emptiness where secrets are easily buried, but which always leaves a mark—sand, clinging to shoes and car tires—on those who venture into it.