Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Wanda De Jesus, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston
Toward the end of Blood Work the "mystery" killer asks the stoic Mr. Eastwood, "When did you know it was me?" to which the alert viewer is duty-bound to mutter, "About 45 minutes ago." That's part and parcel of what's wrong with Blood Work. Much the same problem surfaces earlier in the film when the viewer is more than slightly apt to have figured out just why the victims were killed far in advance of Eastwood's character. What's interesting is that it's a perfect blend of sloppy writing and ill-advised direction. If it's not Brian Helgeland's (A Knight's Tale) screenplay that's going wrong (for starters, there just aren't enough viable suspects in this thing for a mystery), it's Eastwood over-emphasizing details that telegraph the plot ... at least to everyone except his character. And then there's the little problem of the plot itself -- a bizarre mish-mash that mistakes contrivance for irony. According to the script, Eastwood is a high-profile FBI agent, who has retired after a heart transplant -- that is until the sister (Wanda De Jesus) of the murdered girl whose heart he has inherited convinces him to track down the killer. If this kind of contrived set-up doesn't strain your credulity (and the painfully obvious solution takes contrived to new heights), then the spectacle of the 72-year-old Eastwood -- supposedly 60 days apres-transplant with a scar and bruising to prove it -- running through the streets of L.A. firing a shotgun almost certainly will. (It's hardly surprising that his doctor [Anjelica Huston] washes her hands of him part way through the proceedings.) Throw in Jeff Daniels as a kind of knock-off of Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, add a wildly improbable over-the-top climax with a crazed killer who makes Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction look easy to kill, and a singularly silly "poetic" fate for the killer, and you have Blood Work. Regardless of all this, I can't really call Blood Work a bad movie -- just fatally flawed. Maybe it's partly a case of relativity. Just about any professional-looking piece of work is bound to look pretty good if you see it the day after you see XXX. And professional Blood Work very much is. In the midst of all the crash and bang and pumped-up soundtracks of the summer, there's something bracing, comforting, and satisfying about Eastwood's picture. From the moment the credits start to roll with his trademark cool jazz soundtrack, you know that you're at least going to see the work of a filmmaker true to his own beliefs -- who doesn't give a damn if his style and taste clash with the flavor of the week. It's hard not to admire that. It's also hard not to admire Eastwood as an iconic movie star. Again, this is underlined by placing him against Vin Diesel's effects-driven heroics. Eastwood is the goods. He can hold the screen on his own. Diesel is a Hollywood fabrication -- take away his deliberately grungy appearance, the special effects that render him larger than life, the goosed soundtrack and he will evaporate. For that matter, it's worth noting that bad as Helgeland's screenplay is in terms of plotting (something that may be the fault of the source novel, which I've not read), it's undeniably well-written and crafted in terms of character and dialogue. There are many bright lines and, better yet, Helgeland (or Helgeland guided by Eastwood) clearly understands how to write for his star. And Eastwood knows how to get the best out of his strong cast. It's just unfortunate that his subtle mastery of so much of the film does not extend to a little misdirective sleight of hand in the plot. Not good, horribly flawed, and yet such a satisfying example of classy professionalism that it's impossible not to enjoy, Blood Work is easily the summer's most glorious failure -- and far more interesting than some of the season's more successful efforts.