August 16, 2002 -- "Blood Work" is a straightforward, old-fashioned murder mystery that is above average mainly because it is so well-acted and the characters have some depth. The main character is our hero, Clint Eastwood (who also directs the film), who plays Terrence McCaleb, a hard-nosed FBI agent, a profiler who specializes in serial killers.
Hot on the trail of a suspect known as "The Code Killer," McCaleb suffers a heart attack. A heart transplant saves his life. We pick up the story two years later. McCaleb, now retired, is living on a boat on the San Pedro Harbor. His next-door neighbor is a slacker named Buddy Noone (played by Jeff Daniels of "Pleasantville") who passes the time drinking beer. One day McCaleb is approached by a woman, Graciella Rivers (Wanda De Jesús of "Ghosts of Mars"), who wants him to solve her sister's murder. He declines until she plays her trump card: her sister's heart is beating in McCaleb's chest. He owes her. McCaleb reluctantly agrees to take the case.
The rest of the story is detective work, with McCaleb encountering the usual obstacles (he is retired and has no private investigator's license) he gets information from his contacts with the police, particularly a sheriff's department detective he once helped, Jaye Winston (Tina Lifford of "Pay it Forward"). He is hindered by two local police detectives, one of whom, Detective Ronaldo Arrango (Paul Rodriguez of "Ali"), has a large chip on his shoulder. Arrango doesn't like McCaleb because he thinks McCaleb is a publicity hound.
The story has the usual twists and turns. I was able to figure out who the murderer was in the first half hour of the movie, but it was entertaining to watch nonetheless because of the development of the characters, particularly McCaleb, Buddy Noone and Graciella Rivers. Eastwood does a great job with his usual minimalist style. He plays a character who has mellowed and taken stock of his life because of his near-death experience. This character is similar to the one he played in "In the Line of Fire." McCaleb has been marking time since his heart attack, but the murder investigation revives him and he is invigorated by the excitement of the chase, the challenge of the hunt. Buddy is a guy who is coasting through life, but he also likes the intrigue of the murder investigation after McCaleb hires him as a driver.
This is a formula film with the hard-nosed detective right out of a Raymond Chandler novel (the screenplay was adapted from a novel by Michael Connelly). It also has the overtones of a mismatched detective duo movie. The plot and direction are straightforward and the film has a polished look to it. There are false leads, but no false steps. The film is economical and compact. This is Eastwood's 44th film as a star and his 23rd as director. He knows what he is doing both as an actor and director. The underrated Daniels really sinks his teeth into the role of Buddy. He is effective both in the comedic and dramatic aspects of the role. The other supporting actors are also effective, particularly Tina Lifford and Wanda De Jesús. Anjelica Huston of "The Royal Tenenbaums" turns in a nice performance as McCaleb's cardiologist, Dr. Bonnie Fox.
One of the telling moments in the film involves a speech that McCaleb gives to Jaye Winston. He tells her that she needs to develop a home life away from the job. He is really telling himself the same thing. He has finally discovered that his life is not his work. This is a crucial discovery that has implications for the movie's dramatic climax. Some will probably say this is just another detective movie and that it isn't novel enough for today's jaded audience. Maybe it is formula filmmaking, but there's nothing wrong with that if the film is well-crafted and this one is. This film rates a B.
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