Blood Work (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Once, in seemingly another lifetime, the name "Clint Eastwood" was synonymous with Spaghetti Westerns and the Man With No Name. In the '70s and '80s, he was Dirty Harry, the tough cop with a quotable one-liner for seemingly any situation. More recently, Eastwood has softened his image and turned into a one-man movie crew, often producing, directing, and starring in his own films. For the most part, we have come to expect a fairly high level of quality from Eastwood, whether he's an investigative reporter or a space cowboy. Eastwood's latest, an adaptation of Michael Connelly's Blood Work, is a major misstep and a disappointment of significant proportions. It may not be a failure for Eastwood the actor, but it's a big one for Eastwood the director.

Blood Work is one of those crime thrillers where the filmmakers can't see the forest for the trees. They're so busy trying to distribute red herrings that they ignore the obvious - any half-thinking member of the audience will have figured out whodunnit early in the proceedings. And, once you determine the culprit's identity, the "why" of his actions is easily deduced, reducing much of the movie to pointless running around. The cat and mouse game played by the killer and the protagonist isn't interesting. Aside from that, it's always a bad idea when the audience figures things out long before the characters, since it makes them seem irredeemably slow and stupid.

The plot is little more than a series of badly knitted contrivances. Even Alfred Hitchcock would have blushed at using some of the elements upon which Blood Work hinges. (For the sake of those who are determined to see the movie, I will not reveal any specifics here.) Not having read the novel, I can't say whether the fault lies with Connelly or screenwriter Brian Helgeland, but this is one of the most insultingly lazy and poorly constructed mystery/thrillers to have come along this year. One simple example: when the camera inexplicably lingers on an "I gave blood" sticker, you know it's going to have great relevance later on. The key in a situation is to get the information to the audience without being so obvious about it. There isn't a subtle moment in all of Blood Work.

Eastwood plays grizzled FBI profiler Terrell McCaleb, a man who is loved by the media but disliked by some of his colleagues. One night, while at a crime scene cataloguing the latest atrocity committed by a serial killer, McCaleb sees someone in the small crowd of onlookers who might be the murderer. A foot chase ensues, with McCaleb nearly catching the suspect before collapsing with a heart attack. Two years later, McCaleb has obtained a much-needed heart transplant and is getting back to the business of living when a mysterious, beautiful woman named Graciela Rivers (Wanda De Jesus) shows up on his houseboat. According to her, McCaleb's new heart once belonged to her murdered sister. She wants the ex-FBI agent to use his police contacts to investigate the murder. Although initially reluctant, McCaleb eventually relents, against the advice of his doctor (Anjelica Huston). Because he needs help, McCaleb recruits his slacker neighbor, Buddy Noone (Jeff Daniels) to be his driver and gofer.

Blood Work may not be well done, but it is well cast. Eastwood plays off his Dirty Harry image, giving us a version of what Harry might be like at an older age with a heart condition. McCaleb isn't a stretch for Eastwood, and it doesn't require much more from him than keeping a straight face when saying lines like "An accident is fate; murder is evil," and occasionally touching his chest as if to make sure that his (new) heart is still beating. Wanda De Jesus makes for an attractive and intriguing sidekick, although there were more than a few giggles in the audience during a scene when Graciela and McCaleb displayed some intimacy. There's only about a 30 year age difference. Meanwhile, Jeff Daniels does what he does best and plays an affable-but-aimless everyman.

Aside from the clumsy screenplay and even clumsier direction, there are some other annoyances associated with Blood Work. One of the most egregious is the tendency characters have to utter irritating and inappropriate wisecracks. The biggest offender is Paul Rodriguez's police officer, but he's not the only one (late in the movie, Jeff Daniels gets into the act). Presumably, the intent is for these exchanges to add a little comic relief, but even a bad standup comedian would stay away from this material. And, aside from a few isolated moments when Eastwood manages to generate a little tension (such as during the early foot chase and in a confrontation with a burly Russian), Blood Work often feels like it's dragging. It's not clear to me why Eastwood chose such an unpromising project. Hopefully, with his next film, he'll be back in form. Blood Work will seem hopelessly corny and poorly plotted to all but those who wallow in the badness of half-baked crime thrillers.

Blood Work (United States, 2002)

Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 2002-08-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1