Boiling them down, three things ruin Blood and Wine. Stephen Dorff, the script and the approach. The last two are complicated, because it’s hard to see determine where the script and the approach differ. Blood and Wine was, at the time of its release, promoted as the conclusion of an informal trilogy for Rafelson and Nicholson–Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens and this one. It isn’t. Blood and Wine is no character study. It’s an attempt at extracting the thriller elements from a film noir. In that aspect, it’s at least interesting. Rafelson gives the characters, who are still essentially archetypes, some more time to become full. Jennifer Lopez gets the most of this attention, playing the femme fatale, only with depth. Lopez’s Cuban accent comes and goes, but her performance is strong more often than it is weak.
Rafelson’s direction is brilliant. Nicholson is great. Judy Davis is great. Michael Caine is astounding–it’s hard to believe he gave this astounding performance then almost immediately started hacking it out. Seeing Dorff with these actors–though the majority of his scenes are with Lopez, who’s far better than he is, but not astronomically–is uncomfortable. Watching Davis (in her, unfortunately, glorified cameo) act opposite him… it’s incredible she was able to keep a straight face. She’s giving this layered, textured, beautiful performance and he’s got less screen presence than a wilted tulip. He’s just awful. Much of Blood and Wine can be spent imagining someone else in his role and how much more successful the film would have turned out.
But it isn’t just Dorff being a terrible actor, it’s how loose the script gets when it concerns he, Davis (as his mother) and Nicholson (as his step-father). Dorff’s an indeterminate, younger than Lopez in the film–at times it seems like he should be a teenager, then he drinks a beer in a bar so it seems like he should be at least twenty-one. The script makes him hostile to Nicholson–and turns him into an adaptive killing machine like Michael Biehn in The Terminator–so Blood and Wine flops when it tries to position the two as some kind of (albeit dysfunctional) father and son.
The scenes where Nicholson is caring for Davis, who he mistreats, are stunning. Or when he and Caine (as his partner in crime) are on a road trip, peerless. The scene where Nicholson cares for the ailing Caine… it’s wonderful. It’s a shame the film acts like Dorff and his romancing of his step-father’s girlfriend Lopez (which fails because Lopez isn’t visibly any older than Dorff) is a better plot thread.
The end of the film–it’s hard to say if Blood and Wine is too long, because it’s entirely too crappy in general by the final third, to really concentrate on assigning specific blame–is a misfire, almost a damning one. I had to force myself to remember how well Rafelson made the film and what beautiful performances sixty percent of the cast turned in.
Both Harold Perrineau and Mike Starr are good in smaller parts–especially Perrineau. Michal Lorenc’s music is wonderful, as is Newton Thomas Sigel’s photography. The editing–from Steven Cohen–occasionally has some bumps, like maybe Rafelson didn’t get enough coverage.
It’s an incredible disappointment.
Directed by Bob Rafelson; screenplay by Nick Villiers and Alison Cross, based on a story by Villiers and Rafelson; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Steven Cohen; music by Michal Lorenc; production designer, Richard Sylbert; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Starring Jack Nicholson (Alex), Stephen Dorff (Jason), Jennifer Lopez (Gabby), Judy Davis (Suzanne), Michael Caine (Vic), Harold Perrineau (Henry), Robyn Peterson (Dina Reese), Mike Starr (Mike) and John Seitz (Mr. Frank Reese).