Monday 7 September 2015

Movie Review: Blood And Wine (1996)

An effective neo-noir, Blood And Wine assembles all the elements for a stirring ride through the wilderness of human greed and desperation.

In Florida, Alex Gates (Jack Nicholson) is a wine merchant, struggling to maintain his lifestyle as his business slowly fails and his wealth evaporates. His marriage to Suzanne (Judy Davis) is falling apart, her broken leg and excessive drinking a direct result of his long absences and unconvincing excuses. Alex's relationship with his son Jason (Stephen Dorff) is also heavily strained, Jason preferring the tranquility of fishing with his friend Henry (Harold Perrineau Jr.) to dealing with his dad. And Alex is now having an affair with the much younger Gabby (Jennifer Lopez), the Cuban nanny for the wealthy Reece family.

Attempting to solve all his problems, Alex teams up with ex-convict and safe cracker Vic Spansky (Michael Caine) to steal a precious necklace from the Reece household. But what Alex plans as a simple theft and getaway to a new life with Gabby turns sour when Suzanne intervenes, the necklace ends up in Jason's possession, Vic reveals extremely violent tendencies, and Jason and Gabby start a steamy relationship.

Another collaboration between director Bob Rafelson and star Jack Nicholson, Blood And Wine is an engaging modern film noir. Filmed with a vivid aesthetic that emphasizes the Florida heat and creates a nowhere-to-hide glare, Blood And Wine is set in a no middle ground context where men like Alex can either live up to the neighbourhood expectations and be rich, or fade into oblivion.

With his home life already a train wreck and his business failing, Alex will make a last grab for glory and attempt to steal his way to riches while trading-in the literally broken Suzanne for sexpot Gabby. Of course, although he believes otherwise, Alex cannot control for all the variables. Suzanne's fury, Vic's psychosis and Jason's principles all create a minefield in the path of the carefully conceived plot, and little will go according to the original plan. Meanwhile, the suddenly unemployed Gabby has to decide which path offers her the best opportunity for future security.

While the plot and performances satisfy and the narrative convolutions ensure a high and consistent level of unpredictable enjoyment, the film suffers somewhat from being almost too traditionally faithful to most of the noir tenets. Rafelson lines up and marches out the usual components: infidelity, violence, sex as a tactic, sweet talk, obsessive lying, double-crosses, a woman playing against men, and a precious treasure at the middle of it all. Only the private detective in a trench coat and the hapless local police are missing.

But the key characters are all well developed and more than make up for the modest level of originality. Vic is struggling with a respiratory disease, and his sense of one last opportunity for happiness before the finality of death drives his nothing-to-lose attitude. Michael Caine has tremendous fun with the dichotomy of a surprisingly dangerous old safe cracker unable to control his violent urges to resolve messy situations. Lopez has rarely been better on the big screen, and Gabby is provided with a rich background as an illegal escapee from Cuba trading on her good looks while seeking the man who can help provide a more established life. Alex is easy pickings for Nicholson, while Stephen Dorff is perhaps the least convincing, the role of Jason falling between the cracks of pervasive acrimony.

Blood And Wine may not be a perfect mix, but it nevertheless oozes out of the bottle with an intoxicating smell of attractive menace.

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