One hundred years of cinema means that by now, we’ve already seen almost every plot you can come up with. The truly original filmmakers still manage to surprise us now and then, but the average flick playing at the multiplex — especially between Memorial and Labor days — is going to be nothing more than variations on a theme.
For this reason, personality is more important than ever. Take “Blood Work,” for example. It is your basic story about a retired cop who comes back for one last case that he has a personal interest in. It is indistinguishable from quite a few other films with similar plots — except that it stars Clint Eastwood. There are people who would pay money just to watch two hours of Clint Eastwood snarling. I am one of those people. If you are, too, then “Blood Work” is watchable. Otherwise, it’s strictly run-of-the-mill.
There is one slight twist. Eastwood’s character, Terry McCaleb, retired from the Los Angeles office of the FBI due to a heart defect. He eventually received a transplant and is now recovering on his houseboat. He is approached by Graciela Rivers (Wanda De Jesus), a sultry Hispanic woman who wants his help in finding her sister’s killer. Terry says no; he’s retired. Graciela says he has to help: He has her sister’s heart.
That’s the twist, and it’s a good idea. Terry would feel some conflict pursuing and punishing the killer who, let’s face it, is the reason he’s alive today. In the competent-but-unmemorable Michael Connelly novel on which the film is based, that idea is explored to great philosophical depth. In the film, it is given a few cursory lines and then ignored. Books are better equipped to explore internal struggles than movies are, but screenwriter Brian Helgeland ought to have tried harder, because in this case, that internal struggle was the only thing separating the story from one million other cop stories. (Some of Helgeland’s deviations from the book make sense, though, and the film is more logical than the book was.)
Eastwood is typically Eastwoodian as the old FBI warhorse McCaleb, who once excelled at finding tiny clues and examining tricky crime scenes. He growls and squints and sounds as old as he is (72 in real life) — perfect for a crusty old cop who refuses to admit he’s aging.
Jeff Daniels is adequate as his layabout neighbor Buddy, and Anjelica Huston lends dignity as McCaleb’s doctor. Wanda De Jesus, a lovely figure, has little more to do than look sad and worried.
Eastwood also directed, and there’s where some of the trouble is. You don’t need to worry about which details are important to remember, for example, because anything that’s a clue will have a big cinematic sign that says “CLUE” attached to it. Eastwood thankfully avoids ominous music — in fact, there is almost no music in the entire film — but he misuses every other trick, with a camera that lingers a little too long here, or a line that sounds a little too unnatural there. If you’re paying attention, you ought to know who the killer is long before McCaleb does.
The quiet atmosphere of the film makes it seem more like a straightforward drama than a crime thriller. This would have worked better if the story had been more thought-oriented. Instead, we have an actor who is great fun to watch performing in a film that is only mildly diverting.
C (1 hr., 50 min.; )