Warner Bros. // 2002 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Kevin Lee (Retired) // January 14th, 2003
The key to catching a killer is only a heartbeat away.
All told, Clint Eastwood has had a pretty amazing career, starring in everything from Spaghetti Westerns, to hard-boiled detective stories, to buddy comedies involving monkeys, all the way to some of the greatest Westerns ever made. Through all of these, Eastwood has maintained an image as a Hollywood tough guy, he's proven himself a commendable actor, and later in his career (though starting with the shocking Play Misty For Me in 1971) an excellent director. Eastwood learned this craft from the great Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) and later Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) to the point where he managed to win an Academy Award for Best Director for his efforts on Unforgiven, which pretty much put an exclamation point on the style of Western that Eastwood invented. At one point, Eastwood was the largest box office draw in the world, and while people may still be lining up to see his films, Eastwood's advancing age may find him falling out of favor with some fans. Here's a newsflash though: Eastwood has not only accepted his advancing maturity, but he's embraced it. His choice of projects in the past ten years has reflected his gray hair, the numerous wrinkles in his skin, and his increasingly gravelly voice. Eastwood's latest effort, Blood Work, was summarily dismissed at the box office with little support from the studio in the summer of 2002, which is a shame because it turns out that Blood Work is a decent film deserving of some attention.
Terry McCaleb (Eastwood) is an FBI profiler working on a murder case that features a serial killer leaving cryptic numeric codes and taunts of, "McCaleb catch me if you can" at the crime scenes. When the killer makes a mistake, McCaleb finally comes within arm's reach of apprehending a suspect but instead succumbs to a serious heart attack.
Two years pass and McCaleb's life has undergone some serious changes. For starters he's been removed from duty by the FBI, and, more notably, he's undergone a life-saving heart transplant despite having an incredibly rare blood type. Sixty days after his operation, McCaleb is approached by Graciella Rivers (Wanda de Jesus), who requests his help to solve her sister's murder. McCaleb balks at first, but decides to get involved after Graciella reveals that McCaleb received her sister's heart after her death.
McCaleb enlists the aide of his neighbor, Buddy (Jeff Daniels, Dumb and Dumber, Pleasantville), as his personal taxi service and the hunt for the killer is on. As McCaleb gets deeper and deeper, however, he begins to uncover a disturbing link to his past, and that's when the cryptic, numeric taunts begin again.
I have to admit something of a bias when it comes to a Clint Eastwood film. I grew up watching standards like Kelly's Heroes, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Any Which Way But Loose, and Hang 'Em High. Good stuff. I'm not so much of a fan that I can't see the occasional stinker in his oeuvre (True Crime was completely unwatchable and The Bridges of Madison County just seemed...well...wrong), but overall I've enjoyed Eastwood's career and I'll defend him as a quality actor and director. What Eastwood has in store for audiences with Blood Work is an old school police mystery, and he largely succeeds with this task. Had this script fallen into the hands of the likes of Bruckheimer and Bay, the murder mystery would have been filled with wild gun fights, 'splosions, and a ridiculous manner of death for the film's antagonist (see Con Air for a perfect example of this). Instead Eastwood relies on the seemingly outdated techniques of suspense, human interaction, and a nearly solid plot to advance Blood Work's story.
During his directorial career, Eastwood has done numerous things to make him stand apart from other directors. Most notably is his ability to let other actors have the spotlight. Watch Space Cowboys and you'll see Donald Sutherland mugging for the camera and stealing just about every scene that he's in. Chief Dan George managed to scoop up most of the best lines in The Outlaw Josey Wales. Gene Hackman's Little Bill Daggett steals the thunder in Unforgiven ("You may think I'm kicking you, Bob"). And do you really think Play Misty For Me was a showcase for Eastwood? Take another look and you'll see how much the film focuses on Jessica Walter's performance. Compare these films to the abhorrent Harlem Nights, which starred and was directed by Eddie Murphy, in which the camera focused far too often and far too long on Murphy's glad-handing, scenery-chewing, over-the-top presence. And as much as I love Jackie Chan, he just can't seem to hit the right notes when he directs himself, such as in Operation Condor. While Blood Work exclusively follows Terry McCaleb, Eastwood gives ample opportunity for his co-stars to shine. Jeff Daniels has as varied a body of work as any other actor (I truly find him to be one of the underrated talents in Hollywood), and his character of Buddy is given plenty of great moments as the comic relief. Wanda de Jesus provides an excellent performance as the grieving sister who's out to find a sense of closure for her sister's murder. Her ability to convincingly portray grief and hope with a mixture of desire for revenge made her an excellent choice for this role. Tina Clifford (Pay It Forward) manages some excellent screen time as a former associated of McCaleb's, and Anjelica Huston (The Royal Tennenbaums) reunites with Eastwood to portray his doctor with a grim sternness that comes across well despite some occasional overacting. The only cast member who doesn't seem to hold up is Paul Rodriguez, who drops the ball at just about every turn when he's given the chance to shine. Rodriguez's Det. Arrango comes off as more of a caricature than an actual character. I'm guessing he was meant to be a second point of comic relief, but his dialogue and stilted, hammy delivery miss the mark throughout Blood Work.
Another trademark Eastwood technique is his ability to mess with the conventions of a genre. Thirty years ago this film may have more resembled his work in Dirty Harry, and while a small piece of Harry Callahan might exist in the blood of Terry McCaleb, Eastwood resists the urge to turn Blood Work into an all out shoot-em-up. While there are couple of action set pieces in Blood Work, one of which was a rather inexplicable and confounding moment with a shotgun, the real action revolves around the whodunit aspect of the story. For the record, I was able to figure out the Who part of the puzzle, making this film somewhat predictable for me (I also figured out who Keyser Soze was in The Usual Suspects well before his identity was revealed), the real fun comes in finding out the Why and the How. This factor of the plot involved a chilling moment of clarity that I would swear corresponded with a five degree drop in room temperature. The premise of Blood Work is excellent, even if the execution occasionally missteps. (What do B.A. Barracus of The A-Team and Terry McCaleb have in common? They both have the same super rare blood type. In fact, any time there's a character in a movie in dire need of a transfusion or a new spleen or some other ridiculous plot twist, they always seem to have super rare blood. It seems just about every character in every action movie has AB Negative blood. Enough with the AB Negative already!)
One other Eastwood trademark is that he seems to be one of the few directors in Hollywood today who understands that silence can be deafening. One of the greatest examples is the opening few minutes of High Plains Drifter when an entire town watches in awe or fear as a mysterious and mean-looking stranger rides into town. Likewise, in Blood Work, the final confrontation between cop and killer isn't an overblown work with a blaring horn section or a bad, overcranked Limp Bizkit "song." Eastwood uses setting, lighting, and the eerie, ambient noise of the water to keep the audience uneasy. It's nicely done, and a lot of younger directors (McG, I'm talking to you) can learn a lot from Eastwood's style.
Blood Work, as I inferred above, is far from perfect. Most of the problem seems to lie with Brian Helgeland's script, which is full of some wince-inducing dialogue. While I haven't read the Michael Connelley novel on which Blood Work is based (I understand it's quite good), I've been lead to believe through some research that there were numerous changes that were made that may have disrupted the flow of the story. The identity of the killer, for example, was altered, which required a change to the clues that eventually lead McCaleb to his adversary. Other moments are somewhat mind-boggling. The killer is caught on security camera and is seen talking directly to the camera, yet we're supposed to believe that the police were too stupid to bring in a lip reader (McCaleb miraculously comes up with this suggestion). The aforementioned incident with the shotgun would have made Harry Callahan proud, yet after shooting up a neighborhood the incident gets shrugged off by McCaleb with a simple "Well, we didn't hit anyone," which allows him and Lt. Winston to leave the scene. Despite these few problems, Blood Work still manages to be an enjoyable experience.
Warner Brothers has provided a rock solid transfer for Blood Work. All colors look solid, as does the framing. I'll point out that the version reviewed here is the widescreen edition, and that the buyer should beware because a clearly inferior Full Screen edition will be offered separately. The sound mix is a decent 5.1 surround mix that properly uses the environmental noise to accentuate the mood. It's not great, but you won't have anything to complain about either. Warner Brothers has also provided a short "Making Of" featurette that I will warn you contains complete spoilers of the Blood Work's plot. Nice job, WB. (Note my scathing -- ooh, big word -- sarcasm.) The interview in Spanish of Rodriguez, de Jesus, and Eastwood is subtitled, but mostly contains the same clips and information as the "Making Of" piece, which means it also contains spoilers. Do not even think about watching either of these features if you haven't already seen the movie, as you'll totally wreck the movie and your only alternative will be to unleash a jar of moths into your living room to really wreck it (though you won't be able to demand your money back because of this). The extras are rounded out with the obligatory collection of theatrical trailers and cast filmographies. I guess a film that wasn't supported by Warner Brothers during its theatrical run probably wasn't going to get good support during its home video run, and the overall lack of special features reflects this. On top of this, Blood Work is enclosed in a handy snapper case that turns to dust when you touch it.
Blood Work is an enjoyable, albeit somewhat flawed, film. If you enjoy police dramas or murder mysteries, chances are you will enjoy this. If you are a fan of Clint Eastwood, by all means check Blood Work out.
The cast and crew of Blood Work are free to go, though Paul Rodriguez's career may need a transfusion. The execs at Warner Brothers are sentenced to spend a night on a leaky boat populated with giant hissing mosquitoes for loading up their few special features with spoilers.
Review content copyright © 2003 Kevin Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailers
* Making of Blood Work
* Interviews with Clint Eastwood, Paul Rodriguez and Wanda de Jesus (in Spanish with English Subtitles)
* Cast Bios
* Official Site