In my continued mining of older films that I think are likely suspect, I watched Clint Eastwood’s 2002 thriller Blood Work. What I remembered was that it was a fairly enjoyable film with a really stupid third act. Now I would have to say that I was probably over-selling the film. It is entertaining enough, but it is more like a Movie of the Week than a theatrical film. And it made me realize that this is largely true of Eastwood’s whole career as a director. It is only his great reputation as an actor that has allowed him to direct what are mostly fairly careless films.
The one thing that Eastwood is know for as a director is that he shoots fast. He doesn’t shoot a lot of takes and things move along quickly. As a result, it is amazing that Blood Work cost $50 million to make. Other than the actor salaries, I can’t imagine that more than a million dollars are up there on the screen. Maybe most of that money was just Eastwood’s salary. Because by and large, the cast is made up of television actors. And given the way that Eastwood shoots, that’s probably for the best. He needs people that can give an acceptable performance in two takes. And that’s largely what he gets.
The one clear exception is Wanda De Jesus — she could have used a lot more takes. This is not a slight. She certainly seems to be a perfectly competent actor. But hers is the only part that really requires depth. Every other character in the film is straight graphic novel fare. And her performance seems constantly off. I image Eastwood like Ed Wood after De Jesus asked for another take, “What’s to shoot?! It was perfect!” But another problem is the script.
Again, this is not a slight toward screenwriter Brian Helgeland. For one thing, he co-wrote the excellent script for LA Confidential, which is a marvel of condensation. But the script for Blood Work is almost nothing but exposition. It made me think that Eastwood is as impatient with writers as he is with actors. Helgeland made some good changes to the novel, most especially Buddy, the Jeff Daniels character. But the main problem is the same as it always was: a supremely weak third act. After the plot twist, it disintegrates into mindless action — like John Woo, but thankfully not as long.
There is a strong tendency in films to fall apart in the third act. It is as though the story has gone on long enough and filmmakers have decided to simply end it — regardless of what damage they must do to character, the preceding plot, and good sense. In the case of Blood Work, the serial killer seems to think that he can now be known by sight and by name and yet “get settled” and continue on with the game he’s been engaged in with the Eastwood character from the beginning.
In addition to this, we get an incredibly tedious denouement right out of Dirty Harry. As Eastwood scowls down at the killer, he might as well say, “Make my day!” It’s the same look that Eastwood had during the whole of Gran Torino. Eastwood is a limited actor, but we like him. So the film is reasonably watchable because of that and the addition of Daniels and Paul Rodriguez as the resentful detective. But given that there are so many other films that are better and more enjoyable, there isn’t much point in watching it.