Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:02 pm 
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Memento mori from Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood is seventy-two years old. An actor for almost fifty years and a director for over thirty, he's one of those classic Hollywood pop icon leading men who has such lean, tall, broad shouldered, impressive looks, such dignity and carriage and austere machismo, such cheekbones, such good hair, that he can still draw an audience, still move through an action role, still be believable chasing murderers down alleyways. I don't have to explain that. He's Clint Eastwood -- that's all you have to say. But wait! This time at the end of the alleyway, Clint, as Terry McCabe, famous FBI investigator, falls down, fires a few rounds, collapses, passes out. He's having a heart attack! Fast forward to two years later, when he's just had a heart transplant and the serial killer he was chasing has dropped out of the picture.

'Blood Work,' the novel by Michael Connelly, was adapted by the inventive Brian Helgeland, who accomplished the amazing feat of condensing the baroque plot of James Elroy's 'L.A. Confidential' into a well-constructed screenplay. It's an interesting and very telling choice for Mr. Eastwood, this novel, because it concerns a man living with the possibility that his body may reject its major organ, that he may not only be over the hill (this is the old-pro-comes-back-for-one-more-caper genre) but may actually die. With an actor/director who's an icon, the relationship between Terry and Clint is inevitably blurred. Terry McCabe's cardiologist (played by Anjelica Huston) is an important element in the movie. Eastwood has chosen a telling role for himself. Old and craggy as he is, he seems indomitable. I wonder if he'll still be acting in ten years' time, and if so what kind of roles he'll pick for himself: will he stop striding forward on those long legs and solve crimes from a wheelchair?

You can't call "Blood Work" really vintage Eastwood. It lacks the color of his spaghetti westerns, the charm of his comedies, or the minimalist elegance of "Unforgiven." It's really not much different from a TV police procedural with a twist or two (but containing Clint Eastwood is a big twist). Angelica Huston doesn't seem particularly well cast as a surgeon. Paul Rodriguez plays a grating character -- a hostile policeman who resents McCabe's intrusion in his case -- in an equally grating and indeed endlessly irritating manner. It would be heartless to point out other inadequacies among the list of actors. Let's just say that the casting isn't brilliant, except for Eastwood himself and Jeff Bridges. Bridges, a big, soft-looking actor who has so often played good-natured everymen, gets to do something much darker and more offbeat here and does it well. There's a big glitch two thirds of the way through that suggests a scene was cut out without the necessary rewriting to smooth over the patch.

"Blood Work" has a certain visual style - bright, hard edged. The plot is ingenious enough. But all that really matters is the image of Clint Eastwood facing his own mortality. He may do it more interestingly next time.

August 21, 2002

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