Is there an actor with a more world-weary face than Sean Bean? Although he was once voted the United Kingdom’s second sexiest man (behind Orlando Bloom, of all people) he has the aged features of a man who has seen several lifetimes, no doubt as the result of being killed in nearly every film he’s acted in. It’s this look that makes him the best part of Wicked Blood, a movie that looks and feels more like television than cinema.
Sean Bean plays Uncle Frank Stinson, leader of the Stinson clan, drug kingpin and administrator of the local strip. The story takes place in one of those generic Southern towns, usually in Louisiana, that filmmakers love to set stories of family corruption and drug running. The kind of town no one wants to live in, least of all Uncle Frank. His expression suggests a gangster, who could have been the next Griselda Blanco had he not been stuck playing babysitter to his sister’s orphaned kids.
The kids are Hannah (Abigail Breslin) and Amber (Alexa Vega). Amber works as waitress in a bar disguised as a diner. Hannah is a chess prodigy who doesn’t do much of anything. It’s hinted that Hannah takes part in the school chess club, but most of her days are spent visiting the cemetery and hanging out with her Uncle Donny, addict and manufacturer of “hillbilly crack.” Donny gives the movie some weight as a former chess prodigy who lives day to day by getting high and dancing to classic Rob Zombie songs. Meanwhile, Amber falls in love with Wild Bill, leader of a biker gang who routinely purchases meth from Uncle Frank, and seems to be his only customer.
The success or failure of any good thriller or action movie relies, in large part, on the villain. Patriot Games and Goldeneye will remain Sean Bean’s best, but as Uncle Frank we get a villain so evil he can talk his niece down from twenty dollars to ten to make drug deliveries. And when he sighs and tells a topless stripper lounging around his office, “Eventually everyone ends up on my shit list,” well, I certainly believe it. He’s so good as Uncle Frank, in fact, that the movie slows to a crawl whenever he’s not on screen. Wicked Blood can’t sustain the void he leaves behind, so much so that it’s even a joy to just watch him sit balance the books. A real villain counts his own money.
The rest of the movie is a humdrum affair of double crosses, undercover cops and Jake Busey’s oily charm. Most of the drama comes from Hannah’s decision to start dealing crushed vitamins instead of meth. This starts a war between Uncle Frank and Wild Bill’s gang, which, as a chess player, is Hannah’s intent. I think. For all the energy Breslin exudes, she could have just been really bored. Wicked Blood is a lot like Breaking Bad, only shorter and lacking Bryan Cranston’s intensity. This is the type of movie with a lot of potential, but is a few rewritten drafts away from being sharper than it should. Everything is done in broad strokes, which isn’t offensive, but it doesn’t stand out, either. Sean Bean deserves better.