Blood Work

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 51 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A

For a guy who made a mark on the film world by blowing people away with a .357 Magnum, I am constantly stuck by how low key many of Eastwood's films are. In a Clint Eastwood film, rarely is the world itself at stake (something that was unique about "Space Cowboys") or anything so gigantic. Usually, the tales which Eastwood chooses to tell are modest ones. He isn't out to explode as many buildings as possible and he really never has been. He has always, I think, been more interested in character and story. He has always been more intrigued by the way that people like Harry Callahan think than he has with what they leave smoldering in their wake.

"Blood Work" concerns a serial killer, true, and several murders, but it treats them almost as an afterthought. The real heart of the film is Clint's heart. As the film opens, we see Clint chasing down the suspect in a rash of killings, and doing so on foot. Just when he has almost caught the fiend, Terry McCaleb suffers a heart attack. The assailant gets away and, two years later, Terry (Clint) is undergoing a checkup to see if his body will accept the new heart. Shortly thereafter, Terry meets the sister of the woman whose heart he has received in a transplant. She informs him that her sister was murdered and that the killer has not yet been brought to justice. Terry begins working on the clues, finding things that the other investigators have either missed or chosen not to worry about, and begins a new investigation that his fragile body may not be in shape for.

The mystery plot is absorbing (though, truthfully, I sorta knew where the film was going from the very start, but I didn't know who would turn out to be the killer until much later) and the pace of the film never flags. But it is in Eastwood's portrayal of Terry McCaleb that the film's real strength lies. I've never seen an actor advancing in his years who was willing to take on a role that requires him to be so fragile. Terry is in a precarious state of health and Clint does such a good job with him that we believe it. Every time Clint grasped at his chest or looked a little pale, I was nervous right along with the other characters in the film. It is particularly painful to see that scar of surgery which runs straight down the front of his chest. I winced every time it was shown. Clint has never allowed us to see him this way. He has never allowed us to believe that he might die at any second, and not, necessarily, at the gunpoint of some madman. It's refreshing to see an actor of Eastwood's age not pretending to be younger than he is, but using his age and embracing it as a facet of the character he is trying to portray. Perhaps this is why Clint has not had the career problems of guys who aren't even as old as he (Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone). It's because Clint has an unerring knowledge of what he can and cannot get away with. He knows how to find stories that fit his age and his abilities (try to imagine another actor who would have brought the collective audience memory to "Unforgiven" which enhanced that character) and he knows how to direct them with a steady, yet light, touch.

Aside from Clint's great performance and the steady pace of the film, there are many other elements that make "Blood Work" function so nicely. First off, it's got an original idea behind it, something to distinguish it from all the other serial killer flicks. Secondly, it doesn't wallow in the violence and degradation of the killer as so many other films of this kind choose to do. Third, all the performances are pretty much top drawer. I'm not just talking about Wanda DeJesus as the tenacious sister of the murdered woman, or Angelica Huston as Clint's no-nonsense cardiologist, or even Jeff Daniels who is so wonderful as Clint's lazy bum of a neighbor. No. Every character is an interesting and memorable one: the old lady who runs the convenience store where the murders have happened, a witness to a crime who was frustrated by the mistakes of the ambulance arriving on the scene, a young widow who seems to exude pain and a sense of loss without even trying. Each of these characters is so nicely shaded in by the actor or actress portraying them, brought to such vivid life that you are riveted by them and can sense that they might be real people rather than puzzle pieces in a larger story.

The only real drawback to this film that I can put forth is Paul Rodriguez. It was nice to see the dude get some work, but he's just a bit much. He doesn't quite seem to know when to stop with the jokes, sometimes at the risk of damaging the atmosphere of the rest of the film. Whenever he's onscreen, you wish he had a bit more subtlety. But that's about it. Otherwise, this is a riveting thriller that doesn't need to hammer you over the head with violence or be about something as monumental as the fate of the world or even pure evil, though it does explore the nature of evil and insanity in several great scenes. Our Man Clint is content to get all the characters right and to take care with the story he has to tell, without feeling the need to make it seem more important than it is. His modest, low-key approach to the material is a refreshing one, and it is a vital component of the film's success.

Though, I must add, watching Clint pull a shotgun out of a trunk and start shooting at a suspect's car brought an immense smile to my face It just seems so... right. So beautifully natural. And it just serves to remind you that Clint may be getting old, but he sure as hell ain't dead.