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 moviesstraightforward, 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 Eastwoodcertainly not his worst, to date, but also miles away from what he is surely capable of.
©2002 by Dustin Putman