Blood and Wine reminded me of last fall’s Caught. Both were hyped as solid, non-mainstream films. Both took place in Florida with main characters working the sea. Both involve a family with a two-timing spouse and one adult son. And, unfortunately, both came across as rather bland movies.
Absolute Power, 1997, Clint Eastwood, had a similar dark and claustrophobic feel during it's jewel heist. Judy Davis stars in both.
Night and the City, 1992, Irwin Winkler, is also about small-time crooks looking for one big score. The Jules Dassin 1950 film of the same title is better (though less similar to Blood and Wine)
Jack Nicholson plays Alex Gates, a shady wine salesman who is having an affair with a respected client’s nanny. He steals some jewelry from the client, and even seems to get away with it, but as he’s leaving for the airport to sell the jewels, his wife Suzanne (Judy Davis) confronts him about the affair. A fight ensues and she gets the upper hand. She knocks him out cold. Meantime, she unpacks his suitcase (not noticing the jewelry in the hidden lining), and prepacks it with her stuff. She leaves, taking her son Jason (Stephen Dorff) and, unbeknownst to her, the jewels with her to a friend’s house in Key Largo. Alex and his partner Victor (Michael Caine) chase after them.
Nobody in this movie is very smart. For example, Alex steals the diamonds even when two security guards have seen him enter the house. When the diamonds are found missing, surely he will be a prime suspect, but this doesn’t occur to him. When Suzanne is being chased by Alex and Victor in her car, she makes the mistake of panicking before she is any immediate danger. When Jason confronts Alex at the end, he acts out of anger and hatred toward his father, when just getting away would have gotten him everything he wanted.
In Roger Ebert’s review, he pointed out that the characters seemed to have driven the story, and not vice-versa. The result is that the characters are more believable and they have to pay for their actions more so than in a standard Hollywood movie, but the drawback is that the plot lacks a sense of reward and accomplishment. To borrow a phrase from the Simpsons, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.
If the lack of a traditional story is not important to you, then you might want to see the movie for other reasons. The music was used well. It is dark and somber — more sad for the characters than a violent reflection of them. The overall tone of the movie is handled very well. When cruel things happen, the movie is dark and closed, and when characters are talking about escaping to a better way of life, the movie is sunny and open. I don’t think I’ve mentioned costumes in a current-setting movie review yet, but Jack Nicholson was a well dressed wine merchant. Every shirt he wore seemed to be the color of a different wine.
It is details like these (plus the glowing review from Ebert) that make me think maybe I missed something. The same thing happened with Caught last fall — it got excellent reviews from the critics and it showed signs of being well made, but it just wasn’t satisfying as a movie experience.