Blood Simple (1984) – Review

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The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, are the best directors in American cinema since the early 90’s. Throw in any other directors: there’s no stopping their catalogue of quality movies. Which is why the interest of seeing their first movie, Blood Simple., was of great interest.

Funnily enough, the movie plays as a quasi-precursor to such films as Fargo and No Country For Old Men.

The film, about a wealthy but jealous bar owner (Dan Hedaya) who hires a P.I. (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill his wife (Frances McDormand) and her new lover (John Getz).

The plot is purposely simple, but weaves into a complex yarn of dark motives, double-cross and duplicity.

Of course, this is a staple of Coen Brothers films even today. Fargo is simply about a kidnapping. The Big Lebowski is about a guy trying to get his rug. Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about a man trying to get a job.

Simple plot, but the details are what make the films distinctly Coen.

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And in Blood Simple., those details are there. However, it’s also varnished in the veneer of techniques of first time direction. With a soundtrack that’s off kilter and louder than usual sound effects distort what could be a quiet, unsettling tale.

Product of the time? It sure is, but it nonetheless rings pretty false when the times arise.

And, honestly, the characters aren’t the deepest either. Within moments of the film starting you know the front players and what they are. They don’t change, they don’t evolve. They simply exist for the story to go forward.

Now, again, the Coen’s have done this before and have succeeded in creating a good movie. The question is, with dated sound effects/music and paper thin characters, is there first movie still watchable?

The answer is more complicated than that. Speaking to someone who adores their movies, such as myself, the film is an interesting template of what their movies would become.

Interesting camera flourishes, dialogue that teases and skirts rather than plays direct to the plot, a natural flowing plot while something completely off is occurring: these trademarks are all there.

Hell, even Frances McDormand, who is in half of their films, is in the film.

The movie is, quite literally, the seed that would create the tree of Coen Brothers classics, and for that reason it’s a very interesting watch.

For those who aren’t Coen Brothers fanatics? Or for those who don’t care about the Coen Brothers at all? The movie is interesting, but by the time it’s over, it’s a film you’ll quickly forget about.

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The film, which is just under 100 minutes, is paced very well and runs at a good clip. Interesting plot developments happen throughout, questioning the characters and their motivations.

But the film quickly develops an easy light/dark paradigm that, for all it’s web of complexity, still feels like an very simplistic fable story.

One thing to note that is that M. Emmet Walsh’s performance as the P.I. is pure scenery chewing, in a good way. You know when he’s on, something interesting is going to happen or a good line will be spout out and Walsh’s performance adds an almost comical element to his character.

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The thing with Blood Simple. is this: if you haven’t watched it, there are two reasons: You are a big Coen Brothers fan and just haven’t gotten around to it or you never heard of it and never cared.

The former is what this film is for: only lovers of Coen Brothers films, especially Fargo and No Country for Old Men, will find an interest to watching the film and have reason to enjoy it.

The latter, well, it’s not a bad movie. But there are better love triangle thrillers to watch, like Dial M for MurderBasic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. If you caught those and want that specific fix, give Blood Simple. a try.

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