Someone's got Terry McCaleb's number. A veteran FBI profiler, McCaleb (CLINT EASTWOOD) is unrelenting in his pursuit of justice and unequalled in his success at tracking and catching murderers.
But as he closes in on his latest adversary - a psychopath dubbed "The Code Killer" by the media - McCaleb is felled by a massive heart attack and forced into early retirement.
Two years later, a beautiful stranger (WANDA De JESÚS) reveals a secret that compels McCaleb to re-examine his recovery: his life was saved by someone else's death - the victim of a murder that remains unsolved.
Against the advice of his cardiologist (ANJELICA HUSTON) and with the help of an eager neighbor (JEFF DANIELS), McCaleb literally puts his life on the line to track down a murderer who has forced him to take this case personally.
He's a heartbeat away from catching the killer.
ABOUT THE STORY & CHARACTERS
"It's a detective story and a human relationship story," says the Academy Award winning filmmaker, who optioned the rights to Michael Connelly's best selling novel to produce through his legendary Malpaso production company. "This project was an opportunity for me to take a different approach to detective work, which I've been associated with over the years. At this particular stage in my maturity, I felt it was time to take on characters that have different obstacles to face than they would if I were playing a younger man of 30 or 40."
Indeed, the film's protagonist, FBI profiler Terrence "Terry" McCaleb, is a dedicated professional and taciturn individualist who must come to terms with a sudden and unexpected life change when he is felled by a heart attack while pursuing his latest adversary, "The Code Killer." "I especially like McCaleb's vulnerability, both physically and psychologically, which presents an interesting challenge for him to overcome," Eastwood says. "He's a guy who is very good at his job and committed to it; then all of a sudden, he's forced into retirement. He's trying to enjoy it as best he can, given the situation, and live in peace on his boat in the San Pedro Harbor… until a stranger comes to him for help."
For the role of Graciella Rivers, the beautiful stranger who convinces McCaleb to come out of retirement and risk his tenuous recovery to help her solve her sister's inexplicable murder, Eastwood cast accomplished actress Wanda De Jesús. "In the novel, Graciella was written as a Latina woman, and I wanted to stay true to the book in that regard," says Eastwood. "In the screenplay, the character is described as a woman strengthened by adversity, not beaten by it, and Wanda communicates this quality beautifully. She is a fine actress with a lot of depth and experience, and she seemed like a natural choice for the role."
"I don't think Graciella is vengeful, but she is focused," De Jesús observes. "She's coming from a place of wanting justice - justice for her nephew, a ten year-old boy who has lost his mother to a violent crime. The case isn't moving forward, and she is frustrated with the bureaucracy in local law enforcement. She turns to McCaleb, hoping that he can and will help her, given the special circumstances that connect him to the victim."
Despite himself, the detective finds he is inextricably drawn back to active duty due to the unique circumstances of Graciella's case, which are too compelling for him to ignore. As his health hangs in the balance, McCaleb investigates the puzzling homicide and he and Graciella gradually explore their undeniable chemistry. "Both of these characters share a tremendous sense of loss in their lives," says De Jesús. "I think part of the attraction for McCaleb is that Graciella is not a damsel in distress. She is focused on finding answers and getting closure for herself and her nephew, and she's not afraid to share that determination with him."
The film's subject matter - and the specific dilemma faced by her character - struck very personal chords with De Jesús. "To me, Blood Work is a story about how loss redefines a person," she muses. "Through my research, I discovered that there is a process that people go through when they lose a loved one to homicide. In addition to grief, there's the rage and the wanting to know why. Why did this happen? The people I wanted to give voice to through Graciella are those who have lost loved ones to untimely deaths."
For the character of caring but no-nonsense cardiologist Dr. Bonnie Fox, Eastwood cast Academy Award winning actress Anjelica Huston, daughter of legendary director John Huston, whom Eastwood portrayed in the 1989 drama he also directed, White Hunter, Black Heart. "I have always liked Anjelica as an actress and as a person," Eastwood reveals. "She has a certain stature about her that was essential to the character of Dr. Bonnie Fox, who opposes McCaleb's decision to return to active duty."
"Once you've gone to the trouble to perform a heart transplant on someone, obviously aftercare is tremendously important," Huston notes. "Dr. Fox doesn't think McCaleb is treating his condition with the appropriate seriousness, so she has her work cut out for her." She pauses, laughing. "In one of my recent films, I turned down Mick Jagger's offer of marriage, so it felt kind of appropriate as a continuum to boss Clint Eastwood around."
Like Huston, multi-faceted and acclaimed actor Jeff Daniels enjoyed pushing Eastwood's limits through the unique relationship McCaleb develops with his character, indolent neighbor-turned-chauffeur Buddy Noone. "Buddy is this ex-surfer from California; he's a marina beach bum," Daniels describes. "He hasn't read a book in his life unless it had something to do with the ocean. He's actually a distant, distant cousin to the character I played in Dumb & Dumber. Buddy needles McCaleb; he tweaks him and annoys him. It's been fun to let that aspect kind of flitter out and use the comedy to support the thriller elements of the film." Daniels laughs. "And it's been fun to tweak Mr. Eastwood."
"I've been a fan of Jeff Daniels' work over the years and thought he would be splendid as Buddy Noone," Eastwood says. "He is a tremendously versatile actor. He can play a broad range of characters and bring energy to any type of picture, whether it's a drama like Gettysburg or a comedy like Dumb & Dumber or 2 Days in the Valley."
In stark contrast to Buddy's laid-back attitude and carefree camaraderie is renowned comedian Paul Rodriguez's portrayal of Detective Arrango, a confrontational cop who resents McCaleb's presence as well as his high-profile success. "Arrango is an unaccomplished, bitter guy with a big chip on his shoulder," Rodriguez explains. "He's not a bad person, but he has a tremendous inferiority complex, and he blames all of his shortcomings on the fact that he's Hispanic and can't break through the glass ceiling. In reality, McCaleb is everything Arrango wants to be - respected, successful, a man's man - but Arrango is so damn jealous, he can't bring himself to give McCaleb his due."
Rounding out the stellar Blood Work cast are Tina Lifford as Detective Jaye Winston, McCaleb's former colleague who reluctantly aids him in his unofficial investigation; Dylan Walsh as Waller, Arrango's cool-headed partner; and Mason Lucero as Raymond, the orphaned son of murder victim Gloria Torres.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Filmed almost entirely on location in Spring 2002, excepting five days on the lot at Warner Bros., Blood Work depicts a wide spectrum of the greater Los Angeles area. Action was staged in various locations throughout the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley, downtown Los Angeles, and the harbor cities of Long Beach and San Pedro.
Special consideration was given to designing action sequences that take place aboard a rusted cargo boat, where Eastwood staged Terry McCaleb's climactic confrontation with an elusive serial killer. Exterior scenes were filmed at night on an actual fishing trawler, which ran aground many years ago off the Southern California coast. These scenes were carefully constructed by the director, knowing there would be no opportunity for retakes. "The trawler wasn't the easiest location, but it made a great set to film on because it was very stable," Eastwood relates. "Despite the fact that we shot nights in very windy conditions, the boat didn't rock at all. Everybody got a lot of knots on their heads though, because there was rusted metal everywhere, and every time you'd walk through a doorway, you'd bang yourself around."
After filming was completed, the trawler was sunk in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Los Angeles Harbor Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
For the scenes that take place in the boat's rotting interior, famed two-time Oscar winning production designer and longtime Eastwood collaborator Henry Bumstead recreated the interior of the fishing trawler at Warner Bros. studios. The intricate set, measuring two stories high, rested in a concrete pool to simulate the ship's waterline, and was equipped with scaffolding and breakaway walls to enable Eastwood to shoot a harrowing chase sequence through the craft's narrow, decaying hallways.
Like all of his directorial efforts, Blood Work reflects the efficiency, professionalism and pure love of craft that are the trademarks of Eastwood's style of filmmaking. "We shot this film in 38 days, and that's quick by today's standards," Eastwood says. "Shooting at that pace might make others uncomfortable, but I've been doing this a long time and I don't feel that I compromise anything by doing so. If somebody said Shoot it in 45 days, I don't know what I'd do any differently, besides having a couple days off. Everybody works hard, we get it done and then we move on."
"The man rarely shoots more than three takes of any camera angle," marvels Paul Rodriguez, who was shocked when Eastwood only filmed one take of the opening shot of the film. "It was incredible. After we did the first take, Clint consulted with the camera operator, Steve: How did it look? Steve says, It looked great. Clint asked me how I felt about it, and when I said I felt good about the take, he said, Alright, let's move on. I couldn't believe it. I said, Are you serious? Only one take? Of the opening shot of the movie? Clint says, If Steve says it's good, it's good. And he moved on. That's never happened in the 30-something films I've worked on, and I don't think it'll happen again unless he gives me another job!"
"Working with Clint is the best job in town," says editor Joel Cox, who began working with Eastwood in 1975 on The Outlaw Josey Wales. "He's incredibly decisive and confident. When he shows up on the set, he has envisioned how every scene is going to go, and he shoots exactly the angles he needs. He also trusts the people he works with and allows everyone to do their jobs. He isn't one of those controlling directors who says The tablecloths have to be red, I want these pictures on the wall, and the lighting has to be this color. He hires extremely competent people and says I'd like the film to have this kind of look, and they go and do it."
"I like to hire people I've worked with before, people who know their jobs and enjoy what they're doing," Eastwood emphasizes. "The Blood Work crew was magnificent, especially considering that a large percentage of this film was made at night and in difficult circumstances. Every department came through."
Despite his rapid-fire shooting style, Eastwood maintains an easy-going directorial vibe on set. "Blood Work was one of the more relaxed, extremely operational and good-humored sets that I've ever been on, and I think that's due to the fact that most of the crew have worked with Clint for many years," Anjelica Huston observes. "There's a kind of shorthand between them, and a wonderful camaraderie and interest in the work. Also, Clint's a funny guy and he keeps everyone in a good mood."
"When I got the call to be a part of this project, I said Are you kidding?" recalls Jeff Daniels, who has acted in over 30 films as well as written, directed and acted in two recent independent films. "I immediately read up on Clint and his films and studied his particular style of directing and his approach to the filmmaking process. It was such a thrill to have an opportunity to work with him. I'd deliver what I was supposed to deliver as an actor, then sit back and observe him. It was like going to school. It was a great learning experience."
Daniels' approach to acting meshed well with Eastwood's straightforward directing style. "I must say, Jeff is one of the lowest maintenance actors I've ever worked with," Eastwood attests. "He's well prepared; he comes in with an imaginative concept; and he doesn't need a lot of directing. You just explain to him what you're trying to accomplish, and he was always right there, ready to go."
In fact, Daniels was so willing to support Eastwood's vision, his efforts nearly spelled disaster for the production while shooting a driving sequence in the desert. "It was my second or third day of filming, and I was driving, Clint was sitting in the passenger seat and the camera and operator were positioned in the back seat," Daniels recalls. "The sun was going down, and I was maneuvering the car along this curvy road as we're playing the scene and trying to nail the shot before losing the light. The car's side mirror was catching a reflection of the camera, so they asked me to adjust it. As I'm fixing the mirror, I see Clint reach across me, grab the wheel and turn it just slightly. I looked up and realized that he had very calmly avoided a head-on collision with a minivan coming around the turn. I froze, thinking, I almost killed him! I almost killed Clint Eastwood!"
While fulfilling his demanding directing and producing roles, the unflappable and understated Eastwood acted in virtually every scene of the film and, in many instances, performed his own stunts. "I've been doing this a lot of years and it was particularly difficult on this picture, because I acted in every sequence," Eastwood admits. "But I enjoy the whole process and I want to give the audience their money's worth. It's a demanding job, both physically and mentally, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's not supposed to be easy; it's supposed to be fun. Each step is involving and requires serious preparation. I don't care if it's the planning or design of a film, the execution or the editing. I'm there and I'm part of it."
Another remarkable hallmark of Eastwood's filmmaking expertise is his ability to seamlessly transition between acting and directing. "Clint is so present in a scene, even though he's also directing, all you see is the actor," Wanda De Jesús says.
"Whether he's assessing the scene when you're in the middle of it or after he calls cut, he never shows it - he's too good for that," Daniels concurs. "As a director and as an actor, Clint is there to help you achieve what you're trying to achieve."
"Acting with Clint isn't like acting at all," adds Rodriguez. "He makes you forget that he's a legend; before you know it, he is his character and it's very easy to follow his lead. I felt like a sixteen year-old girl at an ØNSYNC concert when I was working with him. He is so gracious, and I really appreciate the opportunity and the freedom he gave all of us."
How does the Man from Malpaso manage to maintain such balance while fulfilling multiple obligations to his productions? "When you're playing a scene, you can tell when it's good and when it's working for all of the characters," Eastwood explains. "It's difficult. You have to make sure you're always ‘throwing the switch,' so to speak. But when you're dealing with great actors like Jeff and Anjelica and Wanda, it's easier to throw the switch because they're so into it, you just jump right in."
"He makes it look simple," says Huston, who has directed the feature films Bastard Out of Carolina and Agnes Brown. "My father had an expression whenever I came to him with big questions, which was Just do it, honey. And Clint seems to just do it beautifully.
"I spent many years with my father in Intensive Care Units and watched him undergo a heart aneurysm operation," Huston continues. "He was not well for the last twelve years of his life. So the combination of my experience with my father in hospital and Clint's having played him in White Hunter, Black Heart was strangely convergent. In terms of the man Clint is, his way of being, his ease and calm, reminds me a lot of my father. He has a wonderful way of slow talking and slow moving that just makes you feel right at home. His style really lends itself to a relaxation on set that is tremendously useful and calming for an actor, particularly when you come in nervous to work with Mr. Eastwood."
Perhaps Jeff Daniels best summarizes the gratitude and enthusiasm expressed by the Blood Work cast and crew while enjoying the privilege of working with one of the most respected and renowned artists in motion picture history: "It's a special set when you're standing there watching Clint Eastwood stride down the middle of a California boulevard with a sawed-off shotgun, blowing away a Ford."
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