The police procedural is a classic genre of film entertainment, sometimes overlapping with film noir (The Big Heat), sometimes not. Along with private detective stories, including the archetype Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the fascination derives from the actual investigative and thought processes–finding the clues, analyzing the clues, and ultimately piecing together the solution to the perennial question: Whodunnit? Always a staple of the film industry, television has adopted the form with a vengeance, occasionally rising to the excellence of shows like NYPD Blue and the PBS’ Mystery series centered on the French detective Maigret.
But Hollywood has not abandoned the form which has been adapted over the years to changing times and remains good business at the box office. Previously taboo subjects creep into play, such as the murder of a homosexual in 1968’s The Detective. Once paragons of virtue, cops on screen are now occasionally recognized as corrupt themselves (L.A. Confidential) and, if not corrupt, cops, more often than before, are portrayed as real human beings with problems and weaknesses like anybody else.
Clint Eastwood has starred in and occasionally directed the popular Dirty Harry films (Sudden Impact) and he’s done other cop stories as well (The Rookie). In his latest entry. Blood Work, Eastwood is in fine form, both as actor and director. Now in his 70’s, Eastwood has aged well, but he’s smart enough to acknowledge his age in the character of Terrell McCaleb, a retired FBI investigator who was a media star when he was on the job. Now he’s living on his boat in Long Beach and recovering from heart transplant surgery. He’s approached for help by Graciela Rivers (Wanda de Jes�s), whose sister was murdered in a liquor store holdup the same day that McCaleb got a donor heart.
McCaleb agrees to look into it, to the acute disapproval of his physician (Angelica Huston). He trades on his professional connections to get access to the case files from the LAPD cop (Paul Rodriguez) assigned to the case, who is hostile towards McCaleb–jealous of his past success and star caliber, a jealousy no doubt aggravated by his own mediocrity as an investigator. Also assisting McCaleb is Detective Jaye Winston (Tina Lifford), a veteran of the force and an admirer of his; her presence also allows comment to be made on the inefficiencies of competing law enforcement agencies defending their respective "turf." There’s also some interesting commentary on how California’s "three strikes" law makes criminals more violent. Then there’s Buddy Noone (Jeff Daniels), an idle boozer whose boat is just down the way from McCaleb’s; he seems to be planted as the comic relief.
But it’s the investigation that is fascinating and propels the story forward. The cops think the motive for the killing was robbery, but McCaleb’s experienced eye sees bits of evidence that they never notice and he deduces that the victim was linked to other victims and that that’s the link that will lead to the motivation and the perpetrator. There are the expected red herrings, some unexpected twists and turns, and a thriller-style climax, all in tried and true genre mode, but accomplished here with skill, reasonable logic, and individualized, likable (and hateful) characters, consistently well-acted.
Eastwood doesn’t load up his pictures with pretensions to being more than they are. Blood Work doesn’t break new ground–it could have been made 40 years ago. It follows the traditions of the genre, and it wraps everything up in a tidy, somewhat predictable package. At the same time, it never insults the intelligence, it is slickly professional, and it delivers an intriguing story–solid entertainment for the mainstream audience.