Tom Berenger in “Blood and Money,” filmed near Rumford and Bethel. Photo courtesy of Screen Media

“Blood and Money” is sort of a mixed blessing for Maine. 

The independent thriller is set here, specifically the lonely northern reaches of the Maine woods, where a tortured aging Marine veteran (Tom Berenger) plays out the string of a lonely life in his camper home, hoping to bag his one buck of the hunting season. The 2020 release was also shot here, something we need a whole lot more of (even if it fudges the geography — more later).

Beginning with a series of stark onscreen messages more suitable to a post-apocalyptic saga than one old man’s unlikely brush with unexpected danger, the film tells viewers, “The Northern Maine woods cover over 3 million acres of forest land. There are no towns or paved roads. Checkpoints monitor those who enter and exit. Within its boundaries is the Allagash.” Man, Maine sure sounds scary. 

But the Maine woods have never looked better, really. Aerial shots throughout sweep over the undisturbed wilderness, while Berenger’s recovering alcoholic Jim Reed spends his solitary days and nights tracking deer through the snow, smoking, taking pills for a hacking ailment, and occasionally reading old press clippings about the traumatic family event that sent him to live such an existence. Indeed, the 90-minute film spends fully a third of its running time almost wordlessly introducing Berenger’s character as he hunts, tries not to drink, coughs, repairs his similarly aging camper, and trades terse, meaningful exchanges with the troubled but friendly waitress in town (Kristen Hager of TV’s “Condor.”)

Kristen Hager and Tom Berenger at Dick’s Restaurant in Mexico, in a scene from “Blood and Money.” Photo by Alan Petherick

When the plot proper kicks in with a single accident of poor hunting protocol, Reed’s willfully remote life turns in an instant to a Maine wilderness fight for survival. There’s been a recent robbery (of the “Franklin casino,” according to the news), and a cadre of bloodthirsty robbers are headed for the Canadian border with a duffel bag full of cash. Reed’s wrong-place, wrong-time involvement puts him on a collision course with the bandits, as he – using his lifetime of Maine woods savvy and long-atrophied military skills – attempts to dodge bullets, keep the cash, and, presumably, return to his life of hermit-like moping. 

Now, not to be a Maine snob, but if the baddies are heading for Canada, the establishing shots of businesses and landmarks in actual western Maine shooting locations of Rumford, Mexico and Bethel (hi, Dick’s Restaurant!) suggest that they have a lousy sense of direction. Cowritten and directed by southern Maine native John Barr, the choice to film in much more southerly Oxford rather than the actual Aroostook County setting of the film is certainly understandable from a casting and transportation point of view. (Although Allagash residents are likely irritated that a movie originally titled “Allagash” couldn’t be bothered.) 

The Maine of the film is a wintry mix of snowy trails, dingy bars and sad, solitary people, with Berenger’s stone-faced loner fitting in with admirable unobtrusiveness. Indeed, the 70-year-old Hollywood fixture commits so thoroughly to the film’s portrait of a closed-off old man that his most effective posture is stolid silence, even in the face of “Blood and Money’s” escalating cavalcade of perils. The script might be going for a “No Country for Old Men” vibe in its depiction of Berenger’s long-retired (and retiring) man of action, but, in practice, the screenwriting gives Berenger nothing but repetitive, profanity-blurting expressions of dismay as things gradually spiral out of his control.

And that’s a problem, as Berenger’s in nearly every frame of the film, leaving the wintery crime story without a center. At first, it looks content to be a character study of a hardy old man’s lonely regrets, before pivoting on that fateful gunshot to a wilderness adventure, all without finding a reason for us to care much. (Either about Berenger’s dour and self-pitying Jim Reed or the dully cartoonish robbers.) The word “trudge” comes to mind, not only when Berenger and his pursuers navigate their heavy footsteps through the deep snow (the film convincingly portrays how even the most prepared hiker looks like a wet bag of cement after 10 minutes up to their shins), but also with regard to the plot. With all the Maine woods to adventure in, the film keeps circling back to the same few locations, as Reed makes a series of strategic moves equal parts canny woodsman and clueless dope. (His tendency to toss away potentially useful equipment at the first setback had me grinding my teeth.) 

“Blood and Money” is, for all its faults (it’s currently eking out a 4.9/10 rating on IMDb.com), at least a believable Maine adventure. Berenger doesn’t attempt the accent, and having the bad guys presumably “from away” eliminates that often-flunked challenge from most of the cast, too. So — small favors. And the movie is professionally and crisply shot, showing off Maine in harsh but stunning wintertime with tourism bureau clarity. You know, except for all the murder. 

“Blood and Money” is available for rent or purchase through Apple TV and Amazon. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: