Film Reviews: Wednesday, August 15, 2002
Blood Work
Starring Clint Eastwood and Wanda De Jesús. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Brian Helgeland, based on Michael Connelly’s novel. Rated R.
Cardiac Arrests

Clint Eastwood shows his age (repeatedly) in Blood Work.


In the opening scene of Blood Work, FBI profiler Terry McCaleb (Clint Eastwood) suffers a major heart attack while chasing a serial killer on foot. The rest of the film takes place two years later, as McCaleb receives a new heart and recovers from his surgery. Dating back to 1992’s Unforgiven, all of Clint Eastwood’s movies have made an issue of his advancing years, but perhaps none as much as this one. As a new murder case brings McCaleb out of retirement and eventually leads him back to the serial killer he was pursuing at the film’s beginning, Eastwood constantly emphasizes his character’s age. He gets winded easily, takes lots of pills, makes frequent visits to his cardiologist, appears shirtless so we can see the giant incision scar on his chest, and gets manhandled by a thug. The other characters all remark on how bad he looks. Eastwood is so insistent about showing how old he is that you might wonder if there isn’t some sort of reverse vanity at work here. Is he making a show of his frailty to gain sympathy for his character? Or is he using the role to play on our knowledge that in real life, he’s vigorous enough to handle the demands of directing and starring in his own film?

The question is, unfortunately, by far the most interesting thing about this thriller. The main story is about a woman named Graciella Rivers (Wanda De Jesús) who visits McCaleb and asks him to look into her sister’s murder in a convenience store holdup. She comes to him specifically because he was the recipient of her sister’s heart. The movie’s based on a pulp novel by Michael Connelly, and pulp it remains despite the efforts of Eastwood and screenwriter Brian Helgeland. Thriller novels like these always have the sleuth meet a bunch of characters who each provide a piece of the puzzle while telling their own stories. Every time that happens here, it stops the film in its tracks. Moreover, the comic relief in this picture is all based on wisecracking, and the director’s modest comic gifts are based more on gags and situations.

The supporting cast doesn’t help much. De Jesús is uninteresting as both a client and a romantic lead. (Eastwood’s as bad as Woody Allen when it comes to pairing himself up with younger leading ladies, but nobody calls him on it.) Earnest efforts are put forth by Anjelica Huston as McCaleb’s doctor, Jeff Daniels as his unemployed next-door neighbor who gets pulled into the investigation, and Paul Rodriguez as a territorial cop, but the material gives them nowhere to direct their energies. The actor who plays the killer is far too lightweight for the role.

Eastwood the director takes his movies a step slower than Hollywood convention dictates, and his style works for him in his best movies, but he’s too relaxed for this thriller. You wish the film had been directed by some slickly anonymous hack, who might have put more of a premium on the action. Blood Work might have been a good vehicle for the star, but it was a bad fit for its director.

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