Speaking as a devoted fan of Clint Eastwood – at least when he is wearing his director's cap – I tend to rate each eagerly awaited new film of his in one of three categories.
There are the masterpieces, like Unforgiven (1992). There are the underrated films that must be defended, like Absolute Power (1997) and True Crime (1999). And then there are the sad disappointments, like Blood Work.
This film is not quite as depressing as his rendition of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1993). But, once again, he has decided to adapt a popular mystery novel, this time by Michael Connelly. It is a smooth, watchable film, but it lacks the frisson and rich complexity of his greatest work.
Terry (Eastwood) is a retired FBI profiler. The unfinished business in his life is the unsolved case of the 'Code Killer'. When a desperate citizen, Graciella (Wanda De Jesus), begs for Terry's help in tracking down a different killer, he can hardly refuse. For the heart that now keeps him alive belonged to one of the victims, Graciella's sister.
This sounds like the premise for a kinky, disquieting thriller by Barbet Schroeder (Murder by Numbers, 2002). Although Eastwood touches on a few perverse aspects of his subject, he is mainly intent here on getting to a Dirty Harry-style action finale set on a big, rusting boat.
Eastwood's trademark easy-going approach to character and narrative does not do this material any favours. It seems to take forever for the mechanics of the dual serial killer plots to finally mesh. And the outcome to the mystery is not in the slightest bit surprising.
There are, however, several fine performances and offbeat characterisations to enjoy here. Anjelica Huston is especially good as Dr Fox, driven to frequent rages by Terry's determination to put himself at risk.
Eastwood, perhaps weary of reviewers complaining about his tendency to pair himself off with younger women in his movies, gives us something different to chew over this time. There is a weird fantasy about race going on between the lines of this story.
Not only is Terry sensitively empathetic towards a black colleague, Jaye (Tina Lifford); he also literally possesses, as we are reminded many times over, a Latin heart.
Clint contains multitudes.
© Adrian Martin November 2002