Blood and Wine
March 10, 2006
Director Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson had a number of memorable collaborations in the 1970s (Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens) and worked once together during the 1980s (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and again during the 1990s (Man Trouble). Towards the end of ‘90s, they made a nasty little neo noir called Blood and Wine (1997). Like Robert Towne, Rafelson is a survivor from the ‘70s still using his reputation from that decade to make modestly budgeted, character-driven movies – the kind that established his career in the first place.
Alex Gates (Nicholson) is a wine merchant in a dysfunctional marriage with his wife (Davis) and her slacker son, Jason (Dorff). He’s also got a sexy mistress (Lopez) on the side and not above stealing from some of his high-end customers. In fact, he’s casing one house in particular with a diamond necklace worth a million dollars. His partner-in-crime is a low-life Brit named Victor (Caine).
Rafelson does a nice job introducing us to all the characters and their relationships with one another in the first 20 minutes. Then, he lets the various plot developments play out. As with most noirs, the fun is anticipating who will double-cross who as no one can be trusted because they all have their own agenda that don’t fully reveal themselves until the film’s climatic moments.
This is Jack Nicholson in one of his less showier roles, as if hooking back up with his old friend brought the character actor back out in him. It’s a meaty role that eschews the charismatic movie star roles that he does in films like As Good As It Gets (1997), for much darker material. Alex is driven by greed and it gradually consumes him and Nicholson does a good job of conveying the effect it has over his character.
Michael Caine is also excellent as a really nasty piece of work – an ex-convict lacking the social skills that Alex’s calculating, smooth operator has. Victor is a chain-smoker even though he’s one coughing fit away from keeling over on the spot. He is driven by his lack of time. He knows that he’s dying and Caine does a great job of conveying his increasing desperation. He manages to all but steal the film away from Nicholson.
Stephen Dorff, who’s had an uneven career at best, is quite good as the stepson who helps out with his stepfather’s business even though he’d rather spend his time fishing – his true passion. At first, Jason seems like a lazy twentysomething but as the film progresses, additional layers of his character are revealed and like everyone else, there is more to him than there seems. Cast early on in her career, Jennifer Lopez plays what initially seems like the femme fatale role but this turns out to be a something of a McGuffin.
Caine and Nicholson make a fun team to watch as the former sleazes his way through Blood and Wine with his greasy black hair and dry sense of humour that plays well off of the latter’s increasingly desperate schemer. The fun of watching this movie is to anticipate all of the plot twists and turns that revolve around a diamond necklace. Rafelson does not forget that ultimately this movie is driven by its characters and lets us get to know them and their motivations so that we are personally involved in their respective fates.
For a marginalized movie, the DVD for Blood and Wine is packed with a surprising number extras and with most of the major players (Rafelson, Nicholson, Caine and Dorff) contributing to featurettes and commentary tracks.
There is an audio commentary by director Bob Rafelson. He talks about working on a relatively low-budget movie (i.e. working fast on a short schedule) and how this forced him to come up with creative solutions to problems that arose. Of course, he talks about working with Nicholson and says that over the years their biggest arguments have been over his characters’ wardrobe. Rafelson talks about his love of location scouting and how much he enjoyed filming in Miami. This is a relaxed track as the filmmaker takes us through his filmmaking process but with quite a few lulls although not too long in duration.
Also included are 11 scene specific commentaries by Nicholson, Caine, Dorff, producer Jeremy Thomas and film critic Stephen Farber. Nicholson and Dorff talk about the on-screen relationship between their characters. Caine remembers that he had just given up smoking when he started this movie and actually gained weight while making it, laughingly admitting that he let himself go. Nicholson was tired of the obligatory sex scene and suggested to Rafelson that he do a dance scene with Lopez instead. Everyone offers some pretty decent observations making one wish that Nicholson and Caine went the distance with a feature length commentary.
There are seven making of featurettes that focus mainly on characters and the craft of acting. Caine says that he was semi-retired at the time and fed up with acting. Nicholson asked him to be in the movie and, of course, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to act with this living legend. Rafelson wasn’t interested in presenting sympathetic characters but rather ones that were interesting in some way. Caine loves to play tough guys – especially this one because he was also scary and funny. Nicholson was attracted to the tragic flaw of his character while Dorff liked the emotional range of his. Rafelson talks about how he and Caine put Victor together through wardrobe (an aspect of the filmmaking process that the director seems obsessed with). Finally, Nicholson and Rafelson talk about their long professional relationship and how, at times, it is volatile but only because they’ve been good friends for years.
There are eight deleted scenes introduced by Rafelson. These scenes mostly flesh out the relationships between the characters in more detail. For example, there is a nice scene between Jason and his mother where they talk about his real father.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.