Blood & Wine
Alex Gates: Jack Nicholson
Jason: Stephen Dorff
Gabrielle: Jennifer Lopez
Suzanne Gates: Judy Davis
Victor Spansky: Michael Caine
Directed by Bob Rafelson.
Written by Nick Villiers and Alison Cross. Based on a story
by Villiers and Rafelson. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R
(for violence and language).
By Roger Ebert
``Blood & Wine'' is a richly
textured crime picture based on the personalities of men who make
their living desperately. Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine are the
stars, as partners in a jewel theft that goes wrong in a number of
ways, each way illustrating deep flaws in how they choose to live.
It's a morality play, really, but dripping with humid sex and
Nicholson is a Florida wine dealer
whose business is going broke, whose wife (Judy Davis) wants to
leave him, and whose stepson (Stephen Dorff) hates him. He hooks up
with a tubercular British exile (Michael Caine) to steal a
million-dollar diamond necklace from the house of some rich people.
But it is all so much more complicated than that and includes
Nicholson's sexual liaison with the rich family's nanny (Jennifer
Lopez). That's just the set-up. The plot gets *really* complicated.
``Blood & Wine'' was directed and
co-written by Bob Rafelson, who directed Nicholson's first great
picture (``Five Easy Pieces,'' 1970) and also worked with him in
``The King of Marvin Gardens'' (1972), ``The Postman Always Rings
Twice'' (1981) and the unsuccessful ``Man Trouble'' (1992). This is
a return to the tone of their best work; all the major characters
are villains or victims. Director Paul Schrader was telling me not
long ago that movies have passed out of an existential period and
into an ironic period. In that case, ``Blood & Wine'' is a
throwback, because there is nothing ironic about these characters
except what finally happens to them. The plot is lurid and
blood-soaked beyond description, but is handled seriously, as a
string of events illustrating the maxim that bad things happen to
Much of the film's delight depends
on what happens to the diamond necklace after Nicholson and Caine
finally steal it. The theft itself is not hard. ``Rich people are so
cheap,'' the Caine character says. ``They'll spend millions on a
necklace, and lock it in a tin box from Sears.'' I will not spoil
the fun of discovery by describing the travels of the necklace once
it is stolen. Instead, I'd like to observe some wonderful actors
hard at work.
This is one of Nicholson's best
performances, because he stays willingly inside the gritty, tired,
hard-nosed personality of Alex Gates, who is failing at love,
business and crime. He nevertheless remains a romantic at heart, and
his romance with young Gabrielle (Lopez) is genuine: They love each
other, even though she is unwise to believe his stories about how
they'll soon be unwinding in Paris.
What makes the performance
believable is in the details, in the way he tells his stepson to put
on a shirt before leaving the house, or in the way he and his wife
have a practiced shorthand, condensing all their old arguments into
short, bitter trigger-words.
Michael Caine, who can sleepwalk
through bad movies, can bring good ones a special texture. Here he
is convincing and sardonically amusing as a wreck of a man who
chain-smokes, coughs, spits up blood and still goes through the
rituals of a jewel thief because that is who he is. He is capable of
sudden violence (pounding Nicholson with a golf club, he observes,
``That was an acupuncture point''). But he almost inspires sympathy
as a crook who has labored a long time at a hard profession and has
nothing to show for it.
The other roles are given almost
equal weight; the supporting characters aren't atmosphere, but are
crucial to the story, and one sign of the good writing is in the way
other relationships (the mother and her son, the son and Gabrielle)
affect the outcome of the plot. In a bad crime movie, people do what
they do to fit the plot. In a good crime movie, people are who they
are, and that determines the plot. Judy Davis, for example, projects
a fierce wounded anger that adds a whole dimension to her marriage;
she has given this man her money and trust and has seen both thrown
Then there is the way that Rafelson
handles the movie's love triangle, if that is what it can be called.
Gabrielle has no way of knowing the relationship between the man she
loves and the man she is beginning to love, and Rafelson walks a
fine line; when she's forced to choose, we honestly have no way of
knowing which way she'll turn.
One early review of this film said
it had a `` '70s feel.'' Perhaps that means it takes its plot
seriously, and doesn't try to deflect possible criticism by hedging
its bets by pretending there is an ironic subtext. I like movies
like this: I like the way the actors are forced to commit to them,
to work without a net. When Rafelson and Nicholson find the right
material, it must be a relief for them to fall back into what they
know so well how to do, to handle hard scenes like easy pieces.