Mark Reviews Movies

BLOOD WORK

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Wanda De Jesus, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston, Tina Lifford, Paul Rodriguez, Dylan Welsh

MPAA Rating: R (for violence and language)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 8/9/02


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Clint Eastwood is 72-years-old, but he doesn’t seem to be showing signs of slowing down. The man is aging, but did he ever actually look young? Still a strong presence on screen, Eastwood has proven an even greater presence behind the camera. His films, for the most part, seem concerned with older men who in their youth had rough-and-tumble lifestyles and careers and find themselves looking not to regain lost glory but to make some sense of it in the autumn of their lives. Unforgiven, of course, highlights this theme. His newest film Blood Work is about a murder investigation, but more importantly, it is about the way in which the detective’s perspective, motivation, and determination toward the process change and are heightened by a brush with death and a second chance at life. The actual investigation takes the film down well-worn paths with elements that are as predictable as they are interesting, but it’s on the character level that the film rises above its familiar parts.

Terry McCaleb (Eastwood) is the investigator, an FBI agent and celebrity among law enforcement officials. As the film opens, he arrives at the crime scene of the newest victims of a serial killer that has been terrorizing the area. The killer has left a strange code and a taunt: "Catch me, McCaleb." Outside the scene, McCaleb catches a glimpse of a possible suspect and gives chase. In the middle of the pursuit, McCaleb has a heart attack, and the suspect escapes but not before taking a bullet. Two years later, McCaleb has a heart transplant. When he returns back to his houseboat, a woman named Graciella (Wanda De Jesus) approaches him and asks for his help in finding her sister’s murderer. McCaleb turns down the offer; he is no longer a member of any law enforcement agency and has no license for private investigation. Before the conversation ends, she tells him that her sister was the donor for his new heart. Something about the entire scenario compels McCaleb to start looking into the investigation.

The detective work in the film feels uncontrived—the result of an intelligent investigator following clues and instincts. It eventually leads McCaleb to another murder. He studies videotapes of the crimes, notes the calm and calculated actions of the killer, and picks up on odd coincidences in both scenarios. Both crimes seem random, and the killer appears to be playing a game of some sort. As a result, the procedural elements of the film have an urgency about them. We’re able to piece a few important parts the puzzle more quickly than McCaleb, but the film is no less interesting. The screenplay by Brian Helgeland (based on the novel by Michael Connelly) rarely indulges in machinations, although when it does, it leads to some of the more disappointing and predictable sections in the movie. The killer, like all killers in movies of this sort, must be someone in the film. His/her identity is fairly obvious early on, and though we hope our suspicions will prove false and the film won’t go down such an ordinary path, the list of suspects dwindle, leading to the obligatory twist ending.

What makes the whole thing work on a slightly more profound level is the McCaleb character. Here’s a man who takes his second chance at life with a grain of salt. Instead of looking forward to the possibilities, he wonders if he actually deserved the opportunity in the first place. Taking part in the investigation has two immediate levels. First there’s the chance to prove to himself and others that his life means something, and second there’s the concept of moral responsibility toward giving some sort of closure to the death of the woman who saved his life. As if these motivations weren’t personal enough, a relationship inevitably develops between McCaleb and Graciella, giving him more reason to track down the killer. As a director, Eastwood understands all of this and allows all of it to grow as the story moves on. As an actor, his performance is quiet (as always) and sorrowful. We sense that his life’s work had previously been kept at a safe distance and perhaps never had much of an impact on him. Now he’s forced to confront it on an intensely personal level, even if it means his downfall.

The casting is wise, because when it comes down to it, the film’s police story has been told time and time again. Eastwood is right in casting himself in the lead role, and the supporting cast is solid. Anjelica Huston plays McCaleb’s doctor who also finds herself in an ethical dilemma regarding her patient’s sudden return to his stressful career, and Jeff Daniels is effectively pathetic as McCaleb’s loser neighbor turned driver. Wanda De Jesus plays Eastwood’s romantic foil with a restrained but palpable anguish. Believing these people is very important to the film’s success, and the performances, along with Eastwood’s intent focus on characterization, make Blood Work a commendable drama even when the detective story flounders.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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