Blood & Wine: The Perfect Tropical Film Noir
"Blood & Wine" was released on February 21st, 1997. The Film's domestic box office gross was $1,094,668.
Most movies filmed in Miami generally have superb style but lack any substance. Following the Miami Vice formula, they incorporate the aesthetic dogma, with mandatory palm trees, sports cars and scantily clad women. While concentrating on only one particular part of the metropolis, these films tend to confuse our city’s geography. Plenty of films have shown trailer folks living in Coral Gables, and waiters living in Brickell condos. Blood & Wine, a noir-thriller directed by Bob Rafelson, is one of the few films that actually gives a more realistic portrayal of Miami, as opposed to “Wild Things”, another film that was released around the same time period.
Blood & Wine, despite being a rather low budget film, includes a stellar cast that includes Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Judy Davis, Stephen Dorff and the derriere herself, Jennifer Lopez. In Blood & Wine, Jack Nicholson stars as Alex Gates, a local Miami wine importer and part-time heist man.
Diamonds are Forever
Alex seems to be going through difficulties, his business is almost broke and his marriage to Suzanne (Judy Davis), seems to be hitting the rocks. While Alex’ wife, Judy has resorted to alcohol to deal with her misery, his step-son Jason (Stephen Dorff), despises him with passion. Jason works with Alex’s company, while saving money in order to buy his own charter fishing boat.
Alex along with ex-con and occasional sadist Victor Spansky (Michael Caine), plans to steal a multi-diamond necklace from the Reese family, one of Alex’s clients. For this endeavor, he enlists the help of Cuban girl Gabriella (Jennifer Lopez), the Reese’s maid/nanny. We later discover that Gabriella is also Alex’s lover, with whom he plans to travel far away as soon as his jewelry heist pays off. Gabriela also has some plans of her own if they obtain the necklace.
Before leaving to New York City to sell the piece of jewelry, Alex has a huge argument with his wife that turns violent. After hitting Alex with a golf club and assuming he may be dead, Suzanne flees with Jason to the Florida Keys. Alex and Vic track them down in order to retrieve the necklace. At this point, the necklace seems to become a cursed item on whose owner’s tragedy befalls.
Blood is thicker than Wine
While fleeing from Alex and Vic, Suzanne and Jason crash and flip over their car. Suzanne passes away while Jason is left with severe head injuries. Alex is unable to retrieve the necklace from the wrecked car, since Jason has discovered it and hidden it safely somewhere else.
Alex is a conflicted character; on one hand, he feels guilt over his wife’s death, on the hand, he really needs his diamond necklace but he isn’t evil enough to do something about it. His partner, Vic, favors torturing Jason in order to recover the necklace. Vic who is constantly spitting blood due to advanced stages of lung cancer. He is on death doors and he is running out of time; he hopes to reap enormous riches from the necklace and enjoy it if only for a week’s time. His last wish is to die in a gold palace.
Meanwhile, Jason has woken up from his coma, found that his mother died and wants revenge on Alex. All Alex wants is to recover his diamond necklace and get lost with Gabriela. Can he do just that while avoiding either getting killed, being arrested, duped by his partner Vic? Don’t ask me, rent this movie. It’s not like it’s in high demand.
Wine is tastier than Blood
Blood & Wine has greed, passion, murder and sultriness. What is there not to like? As a film reviewer, I’m supposed to look for the good, the bad, the ugly and the laughable in a movie. In the beginning, We wonder why doesn’t Alex simply divorce his wife if they despise each other so much. Then we find out that she gave him a loan to start his business. Supposedly, Alex is almost bankrupt, but he drives a BMW and maintains Gabriela as his lover. The movie takes a rather neutral stance in relation to the characters. While the focus is on Nicholson’s Alex, the viewer never intends to sympathize with him, as he proves to be a complete scoundrel. If anything, the story is character driven. Nicholson’s Alex and Caine’s Vic are a visceral force that affect every development in the plot; the other actors serve only as fill-in to their antics.
Being that Jack Nicholson is the lead, the movie required an amorous coupling between him and a woman that could easily be his grand-daughter. In this case the unlucky lady was Jennifer Lopez. But instead of a sex scene, the viewers get a salsa dance–off between Lopez and Nicholson. According to Nicholson’s commentary, he preferred a dance scene over a sex scene. I’m more apt to believe that Lopez came up with that idea, since she used to be a professional dancer (not stripper).
Introducing J to tha Lo
Around this time period, Jennifer Lopez was only known as “that Puerto-Rican girl who’s going to be the lead in the ‘Selena’ movie”, for which she became the first Hispanic actress to be paid $1 million for a movie role. Also, critics, and viewers couldn’t ignore her rather ample posterior. Her performance in Blood & Wien stands out as one where she shows a semblance of talent. After the release of Selena and Out of Sight, Lopez became a Hollywood mega-star and started commanding between 6 and 12 million in films such as The Cell, Angel Eyes and Enough. The problem resided with the fact that these films had ridiculous plots and childish scripts (another over looked fact was that many Jennifer Lopez films were complete rip-offs of Julia Robert’s films from 10 years earlier). Likewise, Lopez wasn’t the next Meryl Streep, by any stretch of the imagination. Producers assumed that Lopez’s apple shaped behind was enough to attract movie fans/ young horny boys. As a result, Lopez had a series of flops, which culminated in the excessively hyped sleepfest Gigli, with then fiancé Ben Affleck. Eventually, Lopez formed a production company and now hand-picks her projects.
How does it relate to Miami?
Blood & Wine was filmed mostly in South Florida and plenty of sites are easily recognizable. This movie doesn’t give the neon lights view of Miami, so ubiquitous in other movies. As mentioned earlier, most everything fits into place. Alex’s family home seems to be located around Coral Gables or Pinecrest. Gabriela lives in Little Havana with relatives that DO seem Cuban, NOT Mexican. The Reese’s live in the millionaire’s row section of Miami Beach. Their house is next to Indian Creek and has a view of Collins Avenue. Jason’s fishing boat is anchored in the Miami River, near Downtown. Before the dance scene, we are given a view of Wachovia Financial Center in Downtown Miami, but the viewer is left assuming that this building is a hotel, when in reality it comprises only office space.
Blood & Wine might also have witnessed the beginning of Jennifer Lopez’ love affair with Miami. Shortly after this film’s release, Lopez married Cuban waiter Ojani Noa, the first in her ever-growing collection of husbands. Eventually, Lopez would buy a residence on North Bay Road and help produce the atrocious and short-lived cable series South Beach.
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