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1 item from 2002

Blood Work

5 August 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

"Blood Work", Clint Eastwood's 23rd film as a director -- and 44th as a star -- takes us into the familiar territory of a cop-crime thriller. Only it gives us a quick sucker punch when Eastwood's character suddenly collapses with a heart attack. Brian Helgeland's screenplay is based on the first novel in Michael Connelly's mystery series featuring Terry McCaleb, a veteran FBI profiler forced into retirement by a heart transplant. This allows Eastwood, the ultimate movie cowboy, to play age and fragility in a character up against not only a master criminal but also his own mortality.

With Eastwood's direction its customary smooth and efficient self backed by his usual handpicked crew of top professionals, "Blood Work" fits snugly into the "classic" Eastwood mode -- an entertaining suspense thriller populated by hard-edged characters who brighten up a somewhat mechanical plot. Warner Bros. Pictures can anticipate solid boxoffice returns here and overseas.

If Sherlock Holmes had his seven-percent solution, then detective McCaleb has a fistful of pills he swallows daily to keep his new heart ticking. As a man with a new but tenuous lease on life, Eastwood walks through this movie gingerly. Yet the rolling gait is that of a man used to macho action. He is struggling to come to terms with his new self, happy to be alive yet flummoxed by the go-slow approach dictated by his condition.

Nothing could drag him from his boat docked in San Pedro Harbor until a determined Graciela Rivers Wanda De Jesus) shows him a photo of her murdered sister. The heart harvested from her late sister is now beating in McCaleb's chest. She asks him to use his skills to solve her sister's murder.

McCaleb's cardiologist (Anjelica Huston) has a fit. Sure enough, the stress of his new case adversely impacts his health, but he pushes himself to solve the case.

McCaleb is decidedly old-school and low-tech. He takes taxis, and his only phone is a pay phone on the marina dock. Eventually, he enlists a neighbor, a beach bum named Buddy (Jeff Daniels), to chauffeur him to his appointments, turning the two into, in Buddy's words, "Starsky and Putz".

Helgeland's script moves gracefully through a series of Southern California locales and vivid characters as red herrings crop up here and there. McCaleb is seemingly in confrontation with everyone -- a couple of hotheaded suspects; a jealous, bitter police detective (Paul Rodriguez in an against-type performance); his doctor, of course; a mysterious stranger tailing him; and sometimes even an old pal in the sheriff's office, Detective Jaye Winston (Tina Lifford), whose manner suggests that sparks once flew between the two.

The retired FBI man carries no badge, a fact he must fudge in interviews with witnesses and suspects. He must also engage in physical confrontations and gunplay that no one 60 days removed from heart-transplant surgery is likely to endure. But this is, after all, crime fiction.

In this regard, the film's surprise ending may satisfy some while disappointing others over its unlikelihood. It comes damn close to "the butler did it." But, clearly, "Blood Work" is designed more to examine character than to solve a mystery. McCaleb is a neat twist on the usual tough-guy heroes in American crime tales. Indeed, for once in a cop movie we see an obnoxious detective, an unsympathetic doctor and crime victims who fight back.

Few directors cast movies as well as Eastwood. Here he again has the right actors in unusual roles, and the actors respond with dynamic performances. Eastwood effectively employs Lennie Niehaus' cool jazz stylings over opening and end credits, while debuting cinematographer Tom Stern's atmospheric camera and Henry Bumstead's intriguing design create a Southern California where blood seems to be everyone's work.


Warner Bros. Pictures

A Malpaso production


Director-producer: Clint Eastwood

Screenwriter: Brian Helgeland

Based on the novel by: Michael Connelly

Executive producer: Robert Lorenz

Director of photography: Tom Stern

Production designer: Henry Bumstead

Music: Lennie Niehaus

Co-producer: Judie G. Hoyt

Costume designer: Deborah Hopper

Editor: Joel Cox


Terry McCaleb: Clint Eastwood

Buddy Noone: Jeff Daniels

Dr Bonnie Fox: Anjelica Huston

Graciela Rivers: Wanda De Jesus

Jaye Winston: Tina Lifford

Detective Arrango: Paul Rodriguez

Detective Waller: Dylan Walsh

Raymond: Mason Lucero

Running time -- 110 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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