As the twenty-third feature directed by Clint Eastwood (1999's "True
Crime"), "Blood Work" is a by-the-numbers mystery largely revolving
around an investigation into the identity of a murderer called the
"Code Killer." Based on the novel by Michael Connelly and written
for the screen by Brian Helgeland (2001's "A Knight's Tale"), the
film generates an attentive eye for detail when it comes to developing
its ensemble cast, but is overwrought to the extreme whenever the
thriller aspects of the story kick in.
Two years ago, Los Angeles FBI director Terry McCaleb (Clint Eastwood)
suffered a severe heart attack while chasing a suspect only known
as the "Code Killer," who would leave him personal messages at all
of the crime scenes. Now retired and still recuperating from a recent
heart transplant, McCaleb is visited one day by Graciella Rivers (Wanda
De Jesus), who informs him that her murdered sister's heart is beating
within him. Her unknown killer, however, was never apprehended, and
Graciella wants McCaleb to investigate the case. Feeling strongly
that he has a debt to pay to her sister, McCaleb agrees, much to the
chagrin of his cardiologist, Dr. Bonnie Fox (Anjelica Huston), who
warns him that he hasn't healed enough to get back into his strenuous
line of work. As he is lured more and more deeply into the investigation,
he begins to suspect that Graciella's sister's murderer was not simply
a random robbery/homicide, but somehow linked to the "Code Killer."
The directing style Clint Eastwood injects into "Blood Work" is much
like all of his movies--straightforward, lugubriously paced, mildly
captivating, and with as little actual style as possible. He has a
sharp eye when it comes to handling his characters, remarkably more
than when he is dealing with his stories. "Blood Work" mostly works
for its first 80 minutes or so, if only because the actual plot, this
time, is an engrossing one, and it is easy to get involved in the
various key relationships introduced. The viewer willingly follows
McCaleb, who is dangling on a thread due to his heart condition, from
the first scene to the last, as he delves deeply into his search for the serial killer.
Ultimately, all good things must come to an end, and that end for
"Blood Work" is the crucial moment in which the killer is identified.
As a whodunit filled to bursting with red herrings, the film is as
alternately convoluted and obvious as these kinds of thrillers get.
Just to get an idea just how sloppy and predictable the mystery is,
I pegged who the killer was the very first moment the character came
onscreen, which was about ten minutes in. Once revealed, the motives
for the killings and what their personal connection with McCaleb is
are both muffled and utterly preposterous. When the dumbed-down climax
arrives (set on an old oil rig in the middle of the sea), one is left
wondering why the film was so carefully plotted at the onset when
it was only leading to a lousy payoff.
The performances are well-centered and passionate, with two exceptions.
Wanda De Jesus (2001's "Ghosts of Mars"), as the distraught Graciella
Rivers, is miscast, unable to develop more than one dimension even
though she is one of the major characters. Perhaps because of De Jesus'
empty-headed turn, the love story that evolves between Eastwood and
she is almost laughable in its inappropriateness. Even worse is Paul
Rodriguez (2001's "Rat Race"), as overreacting Detective Ronald Arrango.
Rodriguez is so groan-inducing in every one of his failed attempts
at comic relief that he could have been cut completely from the movie
without any noticeable effect.
Clint Eastwood, he of the gruff, low-talking voice and suave mannerisms,
gets his Terry McCaleb just right. In a bid to openly accepting his
aging physicality, Eastwood impressively plays McCaleb as a man far
more determined and involved in his work than his body will allow.
As McCaleb's old flame, police officer Jaye Winston, Tina Lifford
(2001's "Joe Somebody") does nuanced, entrancing work with the most
lovingly written supporting role in the film. Also memorable is Jeff
Daniels (1999's "My Favorite Martian"), as McCaleb's neighbor and
friend Buddy, whom he hires to assist him in the case, and Anjelica
Huston (2001's "The Royal Tenenbaums"), doing a whole lot with very
little in the thin part of McCaleb's concerned cardiologist.
All technical credits, from the ordinary cinematography (by Tom Stern)
to the nimble jazz score (by Lennie Niehaus), call nonexistent attention
to themselves, much like "Blood Work" does, as a whole. For viewers
intrigued by investigational thrillers, the picture has the ability
to offer some satisfaction, but there is nothing particularly clever
or original to set it apart from the very basics of the genre. When
all is said and done, "Blood Work" is an uninspired effort from Clint
Eastwood--certainly not his worst, to date, but also miles away from
what he is surely capable of.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman