Blood and Wine (1996)


“The interesting thing about rich people is that they’re so cheap.”

There are some films that burn images on our brains, and Blood and Wine from director Bob Rafelson is one of those films. There’s a scene in the film when wine merchant Alex Gates (Jack Nicholson)–who’s really a pathetic loser–is whooping it up in a swanky motel with Cuban mistress, Gabriela (Jennifer Lopez). To Gabriela, who works as a maid for a revolting rich family, Alex is a great catch; he’s a business owner, has a nice home and drives a red convertible. So what if he’s married? Alex is so broke his wife Suzanne (Judy Davis) can’t even write a cheque at the supermarket. But in this scene, Alex orders room service–complete with champagne while Gabriela stalks around in red heels and black lace lingerie. This scene is perfect. Alex and Gabriela leave reality behind and indulge themselves for a few hours, pretending that this fabricated experience is ‘real.’

bloodBlood and Wine is a sadly underrated crime film, and it’s the tale of how a middle-aged man, pressured by debts and yoked to a wife, a mortgage, and bills dreams up the sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape his hum drum existence and run off into the sunset with his mistress.

When the film begins, the heist is already planned with the major players in place. The stinking rich Reese family are leaving their ostentatious mansion (an uncomfortable cross between a swap meet and a museum) and sailing off on their yacht leaving their Cuban maid to housesit. The plan is that Gabriela will let Alex and his partner Vic (Michael Caine) into the house so they can lift Mrs. Reese’s diamond necklace from the safe. Things go wrong with the theft  immediately, but when Alex’s home life interferes with his criminal plans, events take an explosive turn.

Blood and Wine works so well because of its strong characterizations. The heist is just a heist, but it’s the people who try to pull off the crime and the people who get mixed up in the fallout that make the film so interesting.

First there’s Alex’s marriage: when Suzanne first appears on the scene, she’s using a cane for a broken ankle. Alex and Suzanne are at each other’s throats in less than a minute, and when the recriminations begin, it isn’t pretty. Suzanne who doesn’t seem to deserve such a louse for a husband, but then the issue is raised of just how she got that broken ankle, and gradually the ugly history of their turbulent marriage is raised.

Then there’s Suzanne’s son Jason (Stephen Dorff) who’s grown up protective of his mother and who harbors a slowly stewing hatred of his stepdad.

Vic, Michael Caine plays Alex’s partner, and this casting was a great choice. At first Vic appears to be a laid-back bucolic character, but as the film develops, Vic’s true character is revealed: vicious and unpredictable, Vic grows increasingly impatient with the screw-ups and whatever (and whoever) gets in the way of his share of the loot.

As for Gabriela, well she’s a girl who looks out for the best opportunity–whoever that might be.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen Blood and Wine perhaps it’s time to see it: it’s a believable tale of greed and lust.

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