Blood flows through family ties — and the line between life and death. It twists through the plot of Blood Work, never shouting but whispering, tracing a pattern for us to work out as we follow its trail along with ex-FBI profiler Terry McCaleb (Clint Eastwood).
Red herrings, clues and separating one from the other are part of a whodunit’s stock and trade. Blood Work delivers from its introduction. Jazz with an initially inexplicable Latin flavor flows under shots of a big city at night. The images and music smell of film noir. But this is no noir. McCaleb may be one of the least equivocal heroes that Eastwood has played. And Graciella Rivers (Wanda De Jesus, Ghosts of Mars) — despite baiting and hooking McCaleb into an investigation that may threaten his brittle life — is no femme fatale. That whiff of cha-cha in the opening music is a clue intimating the Mexican woman’s mysterious appearance on the deck of his home (a modest boat).
McCaleb lives to trace leads to the apprehension of murderers. One, a serial killer, leaves clues in the blood of his victims. The murderer’s cat-and-mouse game finally breaks into an on-foot chase in which the senior special agent suffers a massive heart attack. McCaleb is forced into a medical retirement. He receives a heart transplant. Graciella appears to inform him of the debt of life he owes her sister, Gloria Torres, the donor of his heart. And she requests the only just payment: finding Glory’s killer. “I owe your sister that much,” he agrees. But can Glory’s heart — and postoperative McCaleb — survive the stresses and trials of a tortuous investigation?
Blood Work is a subtle, well-crafted film balancing mystery, police procedural, melodrama and romance with an apparent ease that only a cinematic tightrope walker like director Eastwood can demonstrate. With the deftness of a British chauffeur, he expertly drives through the twists and turns of screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s (A Knight’s Tale, L.A. Confidential) plot. The ride may be too smooth, though. Blood Works’s cruise may be too controlled. Eastwood never throws us into a wild shock. Rather, we arrive at realizations and revelations. Suspense? Yes. Thrills? Rarely. This may be the most well-mannered serial-killer movie yet.
The performances suit the direction and script with equal subtlety and attention to detail. Eastwood’s age (72) may have eroded some of his Dirty Harry menace, but so much the better as it serves to reveal the rocky decency that seems to have been under the surface of all of his characters. He fully occupies the character of McCaleb down to the way he holsters his gun. His portrayal of a challenged open heart surgery patient makes you actually fear for his life.
Jeff Daniels (Escanaba in da Moonlight) also crafts an excellent performance as McCaleb’s neighbor, Buddy Noone, a lovable loser with a secret.
Blood Work may not be a summer thriller, but as a whodunit romance aimed at a more mature audience, it does its job well.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].