Blood and Wine (1996)

screenshot from Blood and Wine

Directed by: Bob Rafelson
Screenwriter(s): Nick Villiers, Bob Rafelson, Alison Cross
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Stephen Dorff, Judy Davis, Jennifer Lopez
Genre: Crime / Drama / Heist
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 38m
Rating: 7 out of 10

Arguably, two of Jack Nicholson’s best early films were Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, both of which were for director Bob Rafelson, who would become Nicholson’s long-time friend and associate. This film marked their sixth collaboration and continues their joint exploration of flawed heroes and dysfunctional families.

Jack is at his laconic best as Alex Gates, an unsuccessful wine merchant, one-time crook and unfaithful husband. His embittered wife (Davis) is perilously close to a breakdown, his business is failing, a fact not helped by having to employ his resentful stepson, Jason (Dorff), and the creditors are closing in.

With his best friend, Victor (Caine), and his mistress, Gabriella (an early part for Jennifer Lopez), he robs the home of one of his wealthy customers to steal a small fortune in jewellery. This is the point where it all starts to go wrong for Alex, as his wife leaves him, unwittingly taking the stolen jewels with her. To divulge any more would be to give too much away but, suffice to say, it doesn’t end well.

Rafaelson has assembled a fine cast and coaxed top quality performances out of all of them. Yes, even Stephen Dorff shows that, when he has something better to do than look pretty, he’s more than up to the task. Caine benefits from the relatively showy part of Victor, the terminally-ill safecracker, and the script gives him the opportunity to show he’s lost none of that controlled rage he portrayed so well in Get Carter. Victor is the realist in the relationship, while Alex is the dreamer, believing that the one perfect score will allow him to reach some kind of nirvana, even while everything in his life is collapsing around him. Ultimately, though, the acting plaudits go to Davis who never strikes a false note and delivers her venomous attacks on Alex with just the right amount of self-loathing.

This is a thoughtful, intelligent approach to the old cinematic staple of the heist gone wrong. The twists are not obvious; the characters and their development ring true throughout.

Caine’s performance won him Best Actor [Silver Seashell] at the 1996 San Sebastian Film Festival.