A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Blood & Wine'' is a richly textured crime picture based on the personalities of men who make their living desperately. Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine are the stars, as partners in a jewel theft that goes wrong in a number of ways, each way illustrating deep flaws in how they choose to live. It's a morality play, really, but dripping with humid sex and violence.
Nicholson is a Florida wine dealer whose business is going broke, whose wife (Judy Davis) wants to leave him, and whose stepson (Stephen Dorff) hates him. He hooks up with a tubercular British exile (Michael Caine) to steal a million-dollar diamond necklace from the house of some rich people. But it is all so much more complicated than that and includes Nicholson's sexual liaison with the rich family's nanny (Jennifer Lopez). That's just the set-up. The plot gets *really* complicated.
"Blood & Wine'' was directed and co-written by Bob Rafelson, who directed Nicholson's first great picture ("Five Easy Pieces," 1970) and also worked with him in "The King of Marvin Gardens" (1972), "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1981) and the unsuccessful "Man Trouble" (1992). This is a return to the tone of their best work; all the major characters are villains or victims. Director Paul Schrader was telling me not long ago that movies have passed out of an existential period and into an ironic period. In that case, "Blood & Wine'' is a throwback, because there is nothing ironic about these characters except what finally happens to them. The plot is lurid and blood-soaked beyond description, but is handled seriously, as a string of events illustrating the maxim that bad things happen to bad people.
Much of the film's delight depends on what happens to the diamond necklace after Nicholson and Caine finally steal it. The theft itself is not hard. "Rich people are so cheap,'' the Caine character says. "They'll spend millions on a necklace, and lock it in a tin box from Sears.'' I will not spoil the fun of discovery by describing the travels of the necklace once it is stolen. Instead, I'd like to observe some wonderful actors hard at work.