Jack Nicholson and Jennifer Lopez in Blood & Wine
(©1997 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.)
Victor is a marvelous creation in the hands of Michael Caine. With a pasty face, a hacking cough, and a bulging stomach that rolls over his belt ("You look like a janitor," says Alex), Victor conveys absolute desperation. He knows he is seriously ill, so he wants one big score. And this makes him especially dangerous, like a wounded lion.
And Jack Nicholson delivers one of his finest performances of the '90s. It's not the kind of audience pleasing performance that garnered him legions of fans who love every mischievous raise of his eyebrows. His performance is closest to his aggrieved father in The Crossing Guard--which audiences stayed away from in droves. Nicholson makes Alex Gates attractive on the surface, but just below the surface, we see the anger and desperation of a man who doesn't have control over his life. We see him ordering his stepson to put on a shirt, as if he's handing down great wisdom, and we sense how his failure must be eating away at his insides. All he has left is his sleazy brand of debonair, and even that is starting to slowly turn into bitter, acid-tongued cynicism.
However, notwithstanding the good performances, Blood & Wine stumbles and falls as the story shifts to the conflict between father and stepson. The movie tries to set up this conflict, even using Jennifer Lopez as the target of their affection: Lopez plays Alex's mistress, but she falls in love Jason. But Jason (played by Stephen Dorff) is a lonely pretty boy, who seems lost from a prime-time TV soap opera (e.g. Melrose Place). Rafelson and company have created a wonderful setup for the story, and a good second act, but without a good finish. As Jason struggles to protect his mother and get her away from Alex, the movie never lets us get under his surface--which it must do or the confrontation at the end of the movie won't pack much of a punch. Even the affair with Gabriella (Lopez) fails to create much interest.
Rafelson says Blood & Wine is the third part of a trilogy of studies of dysfunctional families. The trilogy started with the classic Five Easy Pieces and continued with The King of Marvin Gardens (again with Nicholson). In Blood & Wine, the character of Alex is a masterful creation and a worthy addition to Rafelson's trilogy and the movie is a gritty, sobering study of domestic desperation, but the conflict with the stepson falls flat. I wish Rafelson had jettisoned the character of Jason completely and taken the movie in a different direction after Alex and Victor steal the jewelry. Rafelson has created a trio of fascinating characters in Alex, Victor, and Suzanne, but he doesn't know what to do with them.
Fox Searchlight Pictures Presents
A Recorded Picture Company presentation