Eastwood directs with style

A detective comes out of retirement to find the killer of the woman whose heart the retired cop received in a transplant.
Despite an unappetizing title that makes it sound more like an early '80s teen slasher movie, "Blood Work" is a typically first-rate outing for director-star Clint Eastwood.
At this point in his 40-year-plus career, the Oscar-winning director has attained the same level of dependable, no-frills craftsmanship that distinguished such Hollywood legends as Howard Hawks and Eastwood's one-time mentor, Don Siegel.
Siegel, who directed the former Man With No Name in such early classics as "Coogan's Bluff" and "Dirty Harry," is clearly Eastwood's primary influence as a filmmaker.
Like Siegel, Eastwood can take material that might look foolish in somebody else's hands and, by investing it with terse, steely-eyed conviction, make it seem perfectly reasonable.
Siegel was even able to make the unlikely pairing of Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine (as a prostitute masquerading as a nun) both plausible and immensely winning in 1970's underrated "Two Mules for Sister Sara."
Adapted from Michael Connelly's 1998 novel, "Blood Work" is a perfect case in point. Even the central plot hook -- a FBI profiler comes out of retirement to find the murderer of the woman whose heart he received in a transplant operation -- sounds slightly batty.
But leave it to Eastwood to make this borderline silly premise tick with the economical precision of the finest police procedurals ("Silence of the Lambs," "Manhunter," etc.), his trademark sobriety, and yes, even a pulsing heart.
In "Blood Work," Eastwood's sixtysomething Terry McCaleb coldly and dispassionately stares mortality in the face. After McCaleb suffered a near-fatal heart attack two years ago while on the trail of a serial killer, every passing day has been a reminder for him that he's living on borrowed time.
When Graciela Rivers (Wanda De Jesus) shows up asking for his help in tracking down her sister's killer, the last thing on McCaleb's mind is returning to work. Rivers makes the ex fed an offer he can't refuse, though, when she informs him that it's her sister's heart that saved his life.
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Although the turf-conscious local police aren't much help, McCaleb does obtain some valuable top-secret information from county sheriff and former flame Jaye Winston (a sharp turn from impressive newcomer Tina Lifford).
To placate his motherly cardiologist (the always-welcome Anjelica Huston), McCaleb reluctantly agrees to let goofball neighbor Buddy (Jeff Daniels) play chauffeur during his investigatory rounds.
If the "whodunit" aspects of "Blood Work" seem a little on the mundane side (the film's title pretty much gives away how the killer's identity is ultimately deduced), watching an old pro like Eastwood at work, behind and in front of the camera, is plenty reward enough.
It's doubtful whether anyone will be saying the same thing about Vin Diesel when he turns 72.
XWrite Milan Paurich at milanpaurich@aol.com.

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