Director : Clint Eastwood
Screenplay : Brian Helgeland (based on the novel by Michael Connelly)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Clint Eastwood (Terry McCaleb), Jeff Daniels (Buddy Noone), Anjelica Huston (Dr. Bonnie Fox), Wanda De Jesus (Graciella Rivers), Tina Lifford (Jaye Winston), Paul Rodriguez (Det. Ronaldo Arrango), Dylan Walsh (Det. John Waller ), Mason Lucero (Raymond), Gerry Becker (Mr. Toliver), Rick Hoffman (James Lockridge)
At least Clint Eastwood is starting to act his age, rather than ignore it. At 72, he is still trying to play the hardened "Dirty Harry" role, but at least now he's taking his advanced years into account and making it work toward the plot instead than against it. Unfortunately, his latest film, Blood Work, in which be both stars and directs, is a largely anemic mystery-thriller that moves slowly and methodically through a by-the-numbers plot en route to a ludicrous climax.
Eastwood plays Terry McCaleb, an FBI profiler who, while chasing down a serial killer known as "The Code Killer," suffers a heart attack. Two years later, with a new ticker in his chest (and the killer still at large, though we are meant to have forgotten him), Terry has been forced to retire and take it easy. Not so fast: He is tracked down by a woman named Graciella Rivers (Wanda De Jesus) who informs him that his new heart came from her sister, Gloria, who was murdered in cold blood during a convenience story robbery. Feeling that he owes the dead woman something, Terry allows Graciella to talk him into investigating the case, which goes against the strict orders of his cardiologist (Anjelica Huston) and also steps on a few toes at the LAPD, namely those of two detectives (Paul Rodriguez and Dylan Walsh) who already despise him out of envy for his pronounced media profile.
Terry picks up an unlikely investigative partner in Buddy Noone (Jeff Daniels), a scruffy-haired, self-described "loser" who lives on a boat in the same dock in which Terry parks his boathouse. For the most part, Buddy appears to exist in the film largely as comic relief, a sort of goofy foil to Terry's hardened determination, and it is to Eastwood's credit that he almost makes the relationship work.
Unfortunately, the same does not go for the budding relationship between Terry and Graciella, which turns romantic in the last third of the movie for no good reason other than Hollywood's continual insistence that every movie end in couple formation, no matter how silly or pointless. Granted, the romantic turn for Terry isn't nearly so gratuitous as the activity in Eastwood's last foray into murder-mystery territory, 1999's True Crime, in which his aging investigative reporter was a ridiculously unbelievable horndog who spent much of the movie either bedding women a third his age or trying to.
Blood Work was based on a novel by Michael Connelly and scripted by Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for his adaptation of the sprawling L.A. Confidential (1997). Unfortunately, his script for Blood Work comes across as being too rote. Not having read the novel, I cannot comment on how it compares to the movie. But, something inside me suspects that it has been vastly simplified, especially since all the major "revelations" throughout the film are obvious to any member of the audience paying attention long before the characters are allowed to figure them out, from the killer's motive, to his identity. While the actual investigation has enough twists and turns to keep one's attention (even if you predict the twists ahead of time), the hackneyed climax, in which the unmasked killer stalks Terry on a grounded freighter while wielding a machine gun, induces nothing but eyeball-rolling.
What is most frustrating about Blood Work is that it takes a potentially interesting story and grounds it down to the barest essentials. This is a movie that really needs to be a character study, but Eastwood keeps forcing the plot on us instead. The idea of Terry's feeling guilty for having been saved at such an old age while children are dying because they can't get transplants is a fascinating angle on a cliche character, yet Eastwood seems to do little with it as either an actor or a director. There are a few discussions here and there, but the thematic resonance never seem to truly infiltrate the genre material, the way Eastwood reworked the western into an existential exploration of violence in Unforgiven (1992). In some ways, it is good to see Eastwood acting his age on screen, but Blood Work seems above all to be a sign that he's wearing down.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick