**/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C-
starring Clint Eastwood, Wanda De Jesús, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston
screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by Michael Connelly
directed by Clint Eastwood
by Walter Chaw You can figure out the pivotal clue in Blood Work if not by the title alone--which gives altogether too much away--then surely come the thirty-minute mark. You can deduce the identity of the murderer as soon as he saunters on screen, and you can predict the love story almost before it happens just by dint of the kind of movie that Blood Work is. The only thing you can't figure out is why Clint Eastwood, who sometimes makes interesting movies like Bird, A Perfect World, White Hunter, Black Heart, and Unforgiven, almost as often makes boring, predictable, prosaic movies like The Rookie (1990), Absolute Power, True Crime, and now Blood Work.
McCaleb (Eastwood) is a grizzled FBI profiler on the trail of a serial murderer called "The Code Killer" when he's suddenly stricken by a heart attack. Flash forward two years and the now-retired McCaleb, two months from a heart transplant, is living on a boat, enjoying the good life between invasive check-ups and lectures from his stern doctor (Anjelica Huston). Into his post-operative bliss (punctuated by enough prescription pills to choke Carrie Fisher) comes mysterious Graciela (the awful Wanda De Jesús), claiming that McCaleb's new ticker is the former property of her sister Glory, murdered during a liquor store hold-up. Naturally, Graciela wants McCaleb to solve Glory's murder; naturally, Glory's orphaned moppet (Mason Lucero) will come up with a pivotal plot point before being imperilled; and naturally, Jeff Daniels will play a lovable next-boat neighbour to provide peculiarly ineffective (and wholly unnecessary) comic relief. Surprising to no one, it all ends with a shootout and a jazzy fade-out.
Blood Work is a clockwork, lock-step, shake-and-bake thriller that has nothing new to offer the genre and just enough Eastwood star moments to turn it into a sad but not altogether unwatchable experience. It's marked by the director's lugubrious pacing and laudable attention to character development but fatally hindered by secondary performances running the gamut from Daniels's "The Dude" sleepwalk to De Jesús's stony import to Paul Rodriguez's impossibly pitched rival Mexican detective. The whole thing plays to the pathetic, with "are you okay" the question most asked of our septuagenarian hero. Give Eastwood credit for playing a character his age; ponder the plausibility of a seventy-year-old avenging angel character in the first place.
The professionalism of the direction does little to mask the banality of the product. Save for an interesting prison metaphor for boats at dock, some amusingly perverse product placement (wonder how much Converse paid to have their shoe the athletic wear of choice for sadistic psychopaths), and some nice noir lighting during an otherwise meaningless scene, Blood Work washes out as a thrill-less thriller and a "mystery" aimed at the "Murder, She Wrote" demographic. For as frustrating as it is, it's not often flat-out awful (excepting Eastwood's affection for simpering Asian characters; see also Absolute Power), and by the end Blood Work even manages for long stretches to cast a worn-out calliope spell just by virtue of its determination to take its own sweet time in getting the characters caught up to where its audience has leapt ahead long before. A great shame that Eastwood, an artist of intelligence and an actor of presence, appears to have resigned himself to laggard formula dreck for what is now, by my count, the sixth time in a row; here's hoping the upcoming Mystic River isn't lucky number seven. Originally published: August 9, 2002.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers The last normal-looking Clint Eastwood film, possibly ever, Blood Work arrives on Blu-ray with an ugly cover and an impeccable transfer. The 2.40:1, 1080p presentation's a modest stunner, albeit one that begins with misleading aerial shots of Long Beach that go for the suck trifecta of source defects, heavy DVNR, and poor dynamic range. Thereafter, the image is bold, crisp, and vibrant, with colours spanning a post-NTSC gamut from sunset orange to hospital-gown purples, which run through Eastwood's wardrobe like a motif. Fine detail is such that the stippled tiles of an interrogation room and the glaze on the Krispy Kreme donuts in the same scene provide compellingly tactile distractions, while shadow detail is supple, benefiting the dark climax especially. Grain is surprisingly faint, considering how uncompromised the rest of it appears. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is also excellent, excepting a slight imbalance between dialogue and effects that requires a bit of volume-surfing on the viewer's part. Belying my memory of the theatrical screening, this is a vital and consistently active mix--and nothing less than dazzling when it comes to a few mid-film shotgun blasts, which create little sonic booms that ripple across the soundstage. I suspect the effect wouldn't be nearly so striking in lossy audio.
Extras are recycled from the ancient DVD release. "Making Blood Work" (18 mins., SD) is the usual "I play so and so" B-roll-and-interviews fluff but pitched at an unusually languid pace. Hispanic cast members Wanda De Jesús--who catapults us back to 2002 by quoting Ricky Martin in earnest--and Paul Rodriguez regurgitate much of their respective contributions to that featurette en español in Jerry Hogrewe's bizarre "A Conversation in Spanish" (14 mins., SD)--at least until they're joined by Eastwood, whose ignorance of the language forces them to start speaking English again. Still, I like a moment where Eastwood tenderly kisses De Jesús on the forehead after she volleys a compliment back to him, and Rodriguez dials his obnoxious shtick down to a tolerable level in the presence of Eastwood, who literally looms over the two of them like their weird white grandfather. Note that some gratuitously-long clips really pad the running time of this piece. Teaser and theatrical trailers for Blood Work, in standard definition, round out the platter.