Blood Work, Clint Eastwood's 23rd film as a director, is another crime thriller in the mode of True Crime (1998) and Absolute Power (1996) -- although it's better. More than these, however, it resembles In the Line of Fire (1993), the Eastwood vehicle directed by Wolfgang Petersen, arguably the best thriller Eastwood's starred in since his days working under Don Siegel.
Hero Terry McCaleb is another variation on a character that Eastwood has repeatedly played over the years: the brilliant but deeply flawed lawman. In this incarnation, he's a veteran FBI profiler, absolutely sure of himself and enough of a publicity magnet that many of the cops he works with regard him as an arrogant grandstander...which may indeed be the case.
How brilliant is he? At times a little unbelievably so. During the film's opening scenes, he manages to spot a perp that all the other cops in the crowd have somehow missed. He chases after the guy -- with, again somewhat unbelievably, none of the LAPD officers apparently even bothering to follow -- and almost gets him, when he runs into an adversary far more deadly: his own heart. No one ever says exactly how old McCaleb is, but Clint himself is 72, and no matter how great the star looks, it's reasonable to assume that McCaleb is somewhere in that ballpark. So it shouldn't be all that big of a surprise when the strenuous chase induces a major coronary.
We jump to two years later, sixty days after McCaleb has received a heart transplant. Still recuperating and doing his best to take it easy on orders from his doctor (Anjelica Huston), he's kicking back on his boat when his life and his convalescence are suddenly thrown into chaos. He's is approached by Graciela Rivers (Wanda De Jesús), who wants him to investigate the murder of her sister, Gloria. When he protests that he's retired and not fully over his surgery, she springs the zinger on him: It's Gloria's heart beating in his chest. How can he not help avenge a young woman's death that has given him a second life?
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Since he still can't drive, he enlists the aid of Buddy (Jeff Daniels), a goofy, aging slacker who lives on the boat next door, and starts poking around, much to the aggravation of the already hostile LAPD investigators (Paul Rodriguez and Dylan Walsh) assigned to the case.
Taken from a novel by detective writer Michael Connelly, Blood Work benefits from the strength of the original material. It has one of those stories in which the many initially irritating coincidences and plot holes turn out not to be coincidences or plot holes at all. Add to that the built-in extra layer of suspense -- is McCaleb's pursuit going to cause his heart transplant to fail? -- and you've got a pretty canny piece of construction.
Still, the film's flawed by some plot points being set up in an intrusive, heavy-handed way -- moments when evidence is so front and center that you immediately think, "Well, that's going to prove important later." And the issue of McCaleb putting his heart in jeopardy -- for all the times we see him rubbing his chest and starting to show symptoms of trouble, we stop worrying after seeing too many scenes where he does stuff that would almost cause a heart attack in a healthy man twenty years younger: diving away from an oncoming car, running, fighting and otherwise abusing our credibility.
These concerns aside, the film still delivers the goods, in part because of Eastwood's iconic presence and in part because of Daniels's scene-stealing work in what could have been a hokey role. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Rodriguez, who is so awful that I would be remiss not to mention it.