Blood Work (2002) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 110 min.

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston, Wanda De Jesus, Paul Rodriguez
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland (based on the novel by Michael Connelly)

Review published August 11, 2002

I've always been an admirer of Clint, both as actor and director, but after watching him turn in some lackadaisical work as director in Absolute Power, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and True Crime, I had begun to think it was time for Clint to give up the director's chair and concentrate on acting for the remainder of his career.  He no longer seemed to know when to tighten things up, and languished  in scenes too long, spending more time with developing colorful characters than on pushing forward the story.  However, Space Cowboys had made me rethink that notion, as the story constantly moved forward even during character development scenes, and Clint finally showed he still had what it took to direct big-time cinema again. 

With Blood Work, Clint had a juicy thriller on his hands, with an interesting plot and the potential for some gripping intrigue, but as a director, he just doesn't have the gusto to throw the high heat.  At the age of 72, Clint is that old guy in the car on the freeway that is content to go 50, taking time to enjoy the ride and in no rush to get to his destination.  This wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that we, as viewers, are in the car with him, and while getting there quickly may not be of the utmost concern, we certainly wish he'd apply a little more pressure to the gas.

Eastwood plays a retired FBI director named Terry McCaleb, who retires after having a heart transplant.  He was lucky to get the heart, as he has a blood type found in only 1 out of 200 people, and after he is out of the hospital, McCaleb is resolved to spend the rest of his days on his boat in the harbor.  At least that was the plan until he is visited by Graciella Rivers (DeJesus, Ghosts of Mars), who is the sister of the woman whose heart now beats in McCaleb's chest, losing it when she was gunned down in a convenience store in cold blood.  Graciella wants McCaleb to solve her sister's murder, and although McCaleb is reluctant and is also warned by his doctor not to push things, he feels it's the least he can do for the woman who gave him new life. 

Blood Work is nifty idea for a story from the book by Michael Connelly, and adapted by Brian Helgeland, who also adapted the screenplay for L.A. Confidential to a resounding success.  All of the elements are there to build an exciting whodunit thriller, but Eastwood directs the movie like a man who does carpentry in his spare time rather than as a trade, taking the time to hammer and saw at his own leisure and pace, doing it for his own pleasure than for money.  This doesn't make the film bad per se, as he gets to add many character touches and little bits of wry humor that might otherwise be deemed unnecessary by a director more driven on action.  Yet, Blood Work isn't an easy story to lend character to readily, and whenever the scenes call for more plot development, it is done without the zestful fervor required.

Blood Work remains a mostly watchable film because we like Clint, however don't go into it thinking you're going to get Dirty Harry type action.  Even though the plot is solid, it isn't much of a whodunit mystery, with the reasons why easily figured out when the killer mouths "Happy Valentines Day" to the camera, and even the killer's identity isn't too difficult to decipher once the clues are shown.  However, since Eastwood has decided to take the scenic route for the film, the ride remains somewhat enjoyable despite the unnecessary slowness.  If Eastwood directs any more features in the future, and he hasn't shown he is going to stop any time soon, he should pick scripts that are more his speed.  Why buy the Porsche if you are going to drive it like a Buick?

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo