There's something comforting about seeing old, familiar faces in old, familiar roles. That's Clint Eastwood in 2002's "Blood Work," the actor back doing one of the things that appeared most natural for him, and I don't mean riding a horse; I mean solving a murder case. He did it as effortlessly as anyone.
Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Connelly with a screenplay by Brian Helgeland, "Blood Work" won't appeal to viewers looking for high-octane thrillers, though. It's a movie that, like so much of Eastwood's recent work, relies heavily on the charm of the main character and on the appeal of the supporting cast. The movie has its fair share of excitement, to be sure, but it's mainly the characterizations a viewer is likely to enjoy most. The movie is a welcome treat on high-definition Blu-ray.
Produced by, directed by, and starring Eastwood, "Blood Work" acknowledges the actor's age, at the time over seventy, in making him a cardiac case, but it's only a minor concession to his years. The movie begins with a characteristic Eastwood jazz score playing in the background giving the film an additional feeling of the old days in Eastwood's career, "Play Misty for Me," for instance, and then introduces Eastwood as Terry McCaleb (even the name is reminiscent of Harry Callahan), an FBI profiler who enjoys the publicity of busting big cases. The music is a nice touch in a film that is, in fact, a bit old-fashioned by today's standards of fast-action, quick-edit adventures. The music acknowledges the film as a throwback to an earlier age of more-relaxed mystery films, and the music is perhaps also a subtle, paradoxical reminder that it was Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" thrillers that helped promote today's fast-action thrillers in the first place.
The time setting for the opening sequence is two years earlier than the main story, but when Eastwood steps out of his car and onto the crime scene, it takes us back twenty or more years. The man looks terrific, his hair a bit fuller and darker than usual to give him a younger appearance, his build trim and athletic. He's on the scene to investigate a murder in which the killer has left McCaleb a calling card, a note in blood on the wall of his victim's apartment. McCaleb even spots his man (from his shoes) in the crowd outside the building, but when he tries to run him down, he has a heart attack, collapses, and almost dies.
Flash forward to the present, and McCaleb, looking older and more haggard, is just recovering from a heart transplant. His surgeon is Dr. Bonnie Fox, played by Anjelica Huston in a film that overlooks no opportunity to provide the best person for every part, no matter how small the role. McCaleb now enjoys a life of retirement leisure, living out his days on a boat in Long Beach harbor. But his dreams change when a woman, Graciella Rivers (Wanda De Jesus), comes to him for help. She wants him to find her sister's murderer, a job McCaleb rejects without hesitation. He's barely able to walk any distance with his new heart, and his doctor wants him to spend the next year or more in complete convalescence. Then the woman plays her trump card: McCaleb's got her dead sister's heart pumping in him.
McCaleb can't resist the invitation to take on the new and demanding work because he feels he's now sort of related to the victim's sister by blood. Thus the title, and thus the chase is on. I mean, when you've got someone else's heart beating in you, doing its donor and her sister a favor must be the least you can offer. Dr. Fox has a fit.
It's interesting to see Eastwood in so vulnerable a position as he is in this picture. His character can sometimes barely speak above a whisper after his surgery, and his life is in danger from stress every time he takes a step outside his boat. Maybe it's just me and a sign I'm getting older, too, that more than ever I enjoy older actors in movies, mature people who seem in command of a situation and radiate a dominating screen presence. I think of folks like Eastwood, of course, and Anjelica Huston and Morgan Freeman and the now-retired Sean Connery and Gene Hackman. I recall Cary Grant when he was about sixty-two saying he wouldn't do another picture after "Walk Don't Run" because he didn't think anybody wanted to see some old guy up on the screen trying to be romantic or heroic. I also recall Grant looking better at eighty than most guys look at fifty and my wishing he'd return to movies. So, from an old fogey, it's nice to see Eastwood continuing in the game.
Along with Eastwood in "Blood Work" you'll find Jeff Daniels as Buddy Noone, a neighbor who lives on the boat next to McCaleb's. Buddy is an ex-surfer, boat bum who volunteers to help McCaleb by driving him around town, becoming a comic sidekick to Eastwood's character and providing yet another reminder of the old days, this time of B-Westerns when every cowboy hero had his Gabby Hayes or Smiley Burnette going for the laughs. Then there's Tina Lifford as Lt. Jaye Winston, an old friend on the police force who owes McCaleb a favor. Next, there's Paul Rodriguez as Det. Ronaldo Arrango, another old police acquaintance from whom McCaleb tries to get help but who isn't too keen on doing anything for a man he remembers as a glory hound. Arrango is not only jealous of McCaleb's past celebrity, it especially annoys him that McCaleb now has a Hispanic heart beating in him. Not even trying to bribe Arrango and his partner, Det. John Waller (Dylan Walsh), with doughnuts gets McCaleb very far, the two men remaining McCaleb's adversaries rather than his allies, throughout the picture.
"Blood Work" is not a great movie, it won no awards for its acting or screenplay, and it probably disappointed a lot of young audiences looking for a film with more adrenaline. But for anyone interested in an elegant, well-paced, low-key mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating details, the film works effectively.
The Warners engineers have done an first-rate job transferring the film to Blu-ray disc in the film's native aspect ratio, 2.40:1, using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec. The image looks very well delineated, with particularly good, natural colors, deep and rich, complemented by solid blacks for an extra vibrancy and crispness. A fine, inherent print grain provides a touch of realistic texture to an already excellent PQ.
A helicopter flyover early on lets us know we're listening to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround, although like the video quality, the audio is more functional than sensational, doing little to call attention to itself and serving mainly to heighten the story. Environmental sounds like those of wind, trees, surf, and distant voices come off well, and later in the film some bullets ricochet around effectively. The audio is very clean and very clear, which is probably the best thing one can say about any soundtrack.
There isn't much in the way of special features, but the several items we get are at least worthwhile. The first item is a genuine, if brief, documentary, "Making Blood Work," eighteen minutes of interviews with the filmmakers and behind-the-scenes looks that amount to more than mere promotional fluff. The second item is "A Conversation in Spanish with Wanda de Jesus and Paul Rodriguez," wherein the actors discuss the role of Hispanic filmmakers in Hollywood (subtitled in English).
Then, there are thirty-two scene selections; a widescreen theatrical trailer, and a widescreen teaser; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles; and English, German, and Italian captions for the hearing impaired.
There are a few exaggerated elements in "Blood Work," and there's an ending that's nowhere near as surprising as it tries to be. Nevertheless, much of the movie rings true, and little of it will offend one's intelligence. That's more than I can say for ninety percent of what passes for mystery and suspense in any Hollywood movie. Eastwood directs in a deft and unmannered style, much the same as his acting style; moreover, he moves the film along at a healthy yet not frenetic pace, taking care to linger on scenes of interpersonal relationships rather than purely on action. Even more important, the patented Eastwood grimace appears, as ever, on prominent display. It's good to know that some things never change.