Blood Simple (1985)
Blood Simple (1985)

Genre: Crime Drama and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.

Release Date: January 18th, 1985 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen Actors: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm-Art Williams, Deborah Neumann

 


 

“T

he world is full of complainers.” In a Texas downpour, Ray (John Getz) drives Abby (Frances McDormand) home. His fondness of her results in a stopover at a hotel, where the twosome find themselves between the sheets. This is a problem for Abby’s bar-owner husband, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya), though he has long had his suspicions. After all, he’s already hired sleazy private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to confirm his worst fears.

Soon after the liaison, Abby plots to leave Marty for good, particularly after she’s made aware that her husband knows about her infidelity. When Ray confronts Marty, hoping to deflate the situation, he receives his own dose of doubt concerning Abby’s potential faithfulness to a new partner. She may be abandoning her marriage, but she might not be sticking exclusively with Ray. Her problems worsen when Marty’s bitterness leads to a proposition to Visser: $10,000 for a double murder. “There’s a big incinerator behind my place.”

For their feature directorial debut, Joel and Ethan Coen have chosen the crime drama genre, which they handle with striking expertise. It’s brooding in spots, but never too slow, exhibiting all the hallmarks of their later endeavors (many of which have received plenty of Oscar attention), demonstrating a starting point full of creativity and promise. It lacks polish from time to time (the editing isn’t quite up to snuff), yet it’s evident that their storytelling prowess (particularly when it comes to twisty misadventures) didn’t require several experimental pictures to get going. There’s an exceptional use of music to introduce characters, the start of scene transitions, and sudden shifts in tone (coupled with Carter Burwell’s haunting yet romantic theme melody); the camerawork is innovative, also imparting moods to the events, especially during tension-filled sequences; and the atmospheric qualities are sensational, allowing the sets to virtually be characters in their own right.

“Down here, you’re on your own.” It’s also apparent that the filmmaking siblings are adept with screenwriting. The dialogue is smart and cheeky, while the plot is labyrinthine and unpredictable. Multiple narrators at the start prove to be unnecessary, yet the framework for their more masterful, dark-comedy-laden crime thriller “Fargo” peeks through in the purposefully messy murder/mystery components – in which plenty of mistakes are made, deals are undone, and backs are stabbed (the crime scenes are hilariously disorderly – a jumble of contaminated evidence that would be impossible to sort out, if there were any authoritative investigators in the mix). What is in short supply is a sense of righteousness, as the four primary characters find themselves repeatedly deviating from common morality.

Interestingly, the audience is in on the ordeal, getting to see the specifics of the complicated murder ploy, despite the characters themselves being left in the dark (the fact that there’s a notably small number of implicated parties is pertinent too, as they routinely confuse who did what to whom). Oftentimes, this leads to fascinating studies of reactions and emotions and motives – not the mere piecing together of threads of abstruseness. The directors seem to suggest that while murder might sound simple in theory, it’s far from it in practice; here, when nothing goes smoothly, it’s also terribly cinematic (though no less horrific). Distrust and deviance run rampant, toying with expectations and shattering any trust in consistent behavior from the actors, who are all remarkably effective. By the unguessable, startling, jaw-dropping conclusion – a triumph of clashing wills and exhilaration – the little faults can be overlooked to see the genius in the design and direction.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10