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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blood Work Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
FBI profiler Terry McCaleb almost always gets to the heart of a case.  This time, that heart beats inside him. He’s a cardiac patient who received a murder victim’s heart. And the donor’s sister asks him to make good on his second chance by finding the killer.  That’s just the first of many twists in a smart, gritty suspense thriller that’s “vintage Eastwood: swift, surprising and very, very exciting” (Jim Svejda, KNX/CBS Radio).  Clint Eastwood produces, directs and stars in this edgy, acclaimed mystery based on Michael Connelly’s novel and scripted by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential). With a superb cast brought to a hard boil playing characters to quicken your pulse and hold you spellbound, Blood Work represents another fine effort by Clint Eastwood as both an actor and as a director.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Clint Eastwood returns to direct and star in this adaptation of Michael Connelly’s novel but it might as well be called Dirty Harry 6: Blood Work, since it has the same motifs as Eastwood’s earlier franchise including a leering serial killer, a renegade cop, and an ineffective police force that seems unable to prevent a killing spree.  Eastwood even seems to play Terry McCaleb as an older and slightly more mellow Harry Callahan but with the same toughness and results.  And to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that at all, since I love the no nonsense persona that Clint Eastwood as developed over the course of his career.  Blood Work seems to be Eastwood’s attempt to transition from his past action roles and into a new territory, one that still allows for action but shows the consequences, much like his masterpiece Unforgiven.  Unlike Unforgiven, the balance between those two paths isn’t as well balanced and the film goes back and forth between both sides which prevents it from being one of his best movies.  Blood Work is still a good movie, if a bit slow-paced, but I think it would have worked a lot better if he had just focused on one direction, whether it was to make it an action film or perhaps more of an examination on fame, psychology, and how getting older changes everything.
The film starts with Terry McCaleb (Clint Eastwood) arriving on a crime scene to see the fifth and sixth victims left behind from a serial killer that likes to leave messages behind addressed to McCaleb.  He’s met by Detectives Waller (Dylan Walsh) and Arrango (Paul Rodriguez) who point out another message written in blood on the wall “McCaleb Catch Me”, along with some kind of code number.  While McCaleb isn’t happy at being the focal point of the serial killer’s attention, he also can’t stand Arrango’s indifference and laziness towards the job and the two clash throughout the movie. When McCaleb is surrounded by news cameras and reporters, he notices one hooded figure standing in the background and see blood on the figure’s shoes.  Realizing that the killer has returned to the scene of the crime, McCaleb starts chasing the killer through the alleys until all of the running catches up to him and he has a heart attack.  The killer returns to see McCaleb lying against a fence looking helpless when McCaleb brings up his gun and shoots him.  The killer is struck but manages to make his escape while McCaleb collapses.
Two years pass, and McCaleb is still recovering after receiving a heart transplant from a young woman that had been murdered.  The surgery had gone well but his doctor (Angelica Huston) is still concerned about him but tells him he is doing well.  McCaleb returns to his boat at the dock, where his boat neighbor Jasper Noone (Jeff Daniels) tells him that he has a visitor waiting on his boat.  It turns out that the visitor is Graciella Rivers (Wanda De Jesus) who is the sister of the slain woman whose heart was now beating in McCaleb’s chest.  She is unhappy that there’s been no justice for her sister and says she wants to hire him to investigate the murder since he wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for her sister’s death.  Initially, McCaleb says no but rethinks the decision and agrees to look into it since he feels to do anything else would be ungrateful for his second chance at life.
McCaleb goes to police precinct armed with a box of doughnuts to talk with Waller and Arrango and to convince them to let him see the convenience store’s security video of the murder of Graciella’s sister in the store.  From there, McCaleb talks to his protege in the FBI, Jaye Winston (Tina Lifford), and she lets him watch the ATM video of another murder that is very similar to the previous one and he learns that a witness named James Lockridge (Rick Hoffman) saw the attack at the ATM.  When Lockridge is questioned, he’s angry that the ambulance didn’t arrive quick enough to save the victim.  The investigation is taking a toll on McCaleb and his doctor warns him that the stress might cause his transplant to be rejected from his body.  Realizing that he needs help, McCaleb hires his boat bum neighbor Jasper to drive him around and help out.  The trail leading to the killer quickly becomes more and more dangerous with more people getting killed which raises the stakes for McCaleb to discover who is behind the killings and who just might be closer to him than he thinks.
I enjoyed Blood Work even though I thought it was fairly easy to figure out who the killer was despite the many red herrings the film tried using.  That’s no fault of the person playing the killer as they do an excellent job, but anyone with a passing familiarity with movie plots will spot the character that’s there for really no other reason that the fact that they are the serial killer.  The pacing of the movie could have been faster, but the slow methodical pace nicely mirrors McCaleb’s focused investigation as he runs through one lead after another.  The subplots of his heart transplant and his age are really the only things that prevent this from being a Dirty Harry movie.  While I understand Eastwood’s efforts to present a more realistic image for a man of his age, but I’d prefer less of an emphasis on his age and its detrimental effects on his character.  Perhaps that’s more of a failure of mine than his, as it’s hard to see your heroes age, but Eastwood is doing it gracefully and he still manages to kick butt in this movie even with a weak heart.  Paul Rodriguez adds some nice humor to the film as the insecure Arrango who isn’t happy that McCaleb got a Mexican woman’s heart.  Jeff Daniels turns in another effortless looking performance that once again shows his range as an actor.  Blood Work is a pretty formulaic mystery, but it’s done with intelligence and humor which goes a long way in this genre.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

Blood Work’s 1080p (2.40:1) transfer is pretty impressive for a film that came out in 2002.  This transfer looks very sharp with only the slightest bit of softness popping in every once in a while.  The fine detail is on display with the textures of the clothes and the lines on the actor’s faces clearly seen.  Colors are impressively distinct, and black levels are extremely dark and solid.  Flesh tones are consistent but not as naturally warm as they should have been.  I didn’t notice any major blemishes, scratches, or digital defects in this transfer and I’m pretty happy with it overall.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Blood Work‘s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a very good one especially for an older catalog title like this.  The front channels offer some clearly intelligible dialogue that’s never drowned out by the sound effects or the music.  The rear channels are also utilized well and they deliver a dynamic experience that incorporates some nice directionality as well as some excellent ambiance too.  I always enjoy hearing the background sounds such as the water lapping in the docks or the din in a hospital which makes the movie more immersive and this lossless mix delivers on that.  I think that fans of the movie will be pleasantly pleased with this mix.

Extras (2 out of 5 stars) 

The special features could have been a lot better but they also could have been a lot worse.  The “Making Blood Work” is the best extra on the disc but make sure you don’t watch it unless you’ve seen the movie as it spoils the ending.  All of the extras are in standard definition.
  • Making Blood Work - An eighteen minute look at the making of the movie that includes interviews with the cast and crew of the movie.  They keep the talk pretty general and they focus on the characters, the story, and Clint.
  • A Conversation in Spanish with Clint Eastwood, Wanda De Jesus, and Paul Rodriguez –  This extra has to be a first, as the actors talk about the movie in Spanish until Clint joins them and then they switch to English with a little Spanish thrown in every once in awhile.  They talk about their characters and the film itself and it’s nice to see Clint joking around with his actors.  There’s English subtitles during the Spanish speaking parts.
  • Blood Work Teaser Trailer
  • Blood Work Theatrical Trailer

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Blood Work may not be Clint Eastwood’s finest effort, but it is entertaining and an above average mystery thriller. The film is full of strong performances from Eastwood, Daniels, Rodriguez, Huston, De Jesus, and the rest.  The direction of the movie is focused and lean, and combined with this Blu-rays excellent video and sound quality, I can easily recommend it to own.
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