A scene from 'Blood Work'
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**1/2 stars 110 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, August 9, 2002
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Clint Eastwood, Wanda De Jesus, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston, Tina Lifford

Read our interview with Brian Helgeland Read our 2001 interview with
writer Brian Helgeland


Cop vs. taunting serial killer? Been there, done that better. Still, if you're a fan of Eastwood, the director, there's something to be said for how fresh he makes this stale formula feel.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 12.24.2002


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Director's panache raises film about its FBI profiler vs. serial killer clichés - but not by much

By Rob Blackwelder

Clint Eastwood has a talent for turning cliché-riddled scripts into absorbing, solidly entertaining motion pictures that are far better than they should be. His scrupulous, unhurried and intelligent direction is why 2000's "Space Cowboys" wasn't just "Grumpy Old Men in Space" and why 1999's "True Crime" -- about a reporter with 24 hours to prove an inmate's innocence before his execution -- wasn't a movie-of-the-week.

He doesn't have quite the same success with the cop-vs.-serial killer thriller "Blood Work," in which he plays an FBI profiler forced to retire after suffering a heart attack during a foot chase with his nemesis, called the "Code Killer." Eastwood judiciously tempers the picture's more hackneyed elements, like the oh-so-scripted, come-and-get-me puzzle pieces the murderer leaves as clues. But so many scenes invite easy second-guessing of the hero -- and of the cops he works with when the bad guy resurfaces after Eastwood has recovered from a heart transplant -- that the movie's strengths are often obscured.

Two months after his surgery, Terry McCaleb (Eastwood) is tracked down onboard his modest fishing-boat home by a woman named Graciela Rivers (Wanda De Jesus) who believes he received her dead sister's heart. She has learned of McCaleb's legendary reputation as a detective and wants his help solving the murder that got him his new ticker.

It's a great story angle to be sure, and through labored breathing and an investigation structured around McCaleb's medication regimen, Eastwood never lets the audience forget that, while his character is not fully recovered, he feels an obligation to conduct this private investigation.

Calling in favors from cops, his "boat bum" neighbor (Jeff Daniels) and an old lover at the sheriff's department (Tina Lifford) -- whose relationship with McCaleb is only alluded to, typical of Eastwood's intricate style -- McCaleb soon discovers a startling connection between two seemingly random robbery-murders: The victims were both organ donors and both had his own rare blood type. The first died before reaching the hospital. The second was Graciela's sister. The fact that her heart now beats in his chest is no coincidence.

But how? And why? Well, that's one of the over-scripted, only-in-the-movies elements that Eastwood isn't quite able to wrestle into submission. It's too obvious too early on that McCaleb's progress is being monitored by someone with a vested interest in him and/or the murders.

When McCaleb almost gets a chance to confront his stalker, it leads to one of the movie's numerous "why doesn't he just..." moments. After shooting out the windows of a mysterious car that has followed him and causing the driver to crash before speeding away in the battered vehicle away, why doesn't he just have his sheriff ex -- who is with him at the time -- call in an all-points bulletin? How hard would it be to find a half-wrecked blue Chevy Cavalier breaknecking through city streets?

This is one of three times in the movie that the shadowy antagonist could have easily been caught if McCaleb had called for backup. Similar silly scripting gaffes are littered throughout the movie, like the fact that the dead woman's 10-year-old son cracks the Code Killer's cypher in 60 seconds -- after it had stumped the FBI for years. (The eventual revelation of code's meaning is equally preposterous.)

In spite of these improbable elements and an unlikely romance between McCaleb and Graciela -- all liberties taken with Michael Connelly's source novel by normally sagacious screenwriter Brian Helgeland (writer of "L.A. Confidential," writer-director of "Payback" and "A Knight's Tale") -- Eastwood's directorial panache manages to give "Blood Work" the feel of a shrewd, grown-up thriller. In the lead roles, character is established more through behavior than dialogue. Scenes that other directors would turn into action showpieces, Eastwood executes calmly and in discriminating detail. He takes the time to establish a realistic police-FBI antagonism, then exploit it for a few well-placed laughs.

It's just a pity the screenplay's shortcomings hang like an albatross around the story's neck. These problems are bad enough to leave me ultimately unimpressed with this picture. But there's enough promise shown here that I'm still looking forward to another murder mystery collaboration between Eastwood and Helgeland, entitled "Mystic River" and due in 2003.

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