Schoenaerts plays Peter, another one of the introspective boxer-types that he could play in his sleep at this point. But Matthias, bless his bulk, never sleeps, even when he's called on again to be oh-so world-weary -- he remains keenly watchable even at his most somnambulistic, monosyllabic; he resonates like a quiet little bull in the corner of the china-shop standing on its tippy-toes trying so hard to not smash the world. By now Matthias can virtuoso out the tension of that un-smashing -- he's forever the lean-back to a punch, one that doesn't always come. One that might morph into a hug, a big bear one, given the correct alignment of hugging circumstances.
But besides their violent business relationship Peter and Michael are more than just cousins -- when the movie starts they do seem like friends, semi-confidantes, and at that maybe even the brothers of blood referenced in the title; that final note even moreso as the film metes out their family story in scattered flashback. The boys' crime-history, sordid and sad, becomes their crime-present with overlapping lines of betrayal, all tied and twisted into a crime-future of who knows. No good though. That's for certain in these sorts of stories. Hugs be damned.
But side-characters aside it's mainly the Schoenaerts & Kinnaman Show. And while Brothers By Blood might not be something I've never seen before -- even if Guez does have a great eye for wet city shadows and sad plastered walls, giving this place the sort of dilapidated sense you can smell -- those two actors do manage to make something often worth watching out of some pretty familiar scraps. Are they totally believable as Irish-Americans? That, my friends, is a stretch best forgetting. But they're both immensely watchable all the same, and Schoenaerts in particular, man, the dude just bear-hugs out wonders time and again with whatever you hand him. He fills the screen on his own.