Blood Simple Review


The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple is about as assured a directorial debut as I’ve ever seen. It’s a film noir very reminiscent of classics like Double Indemnity, but it has a tone that’s all its own. It’s a quiet film—one that relies a lot on atmosphere to build suspense. But I have to say that beyond the Coens’ outstanding direction and writing, there’s not a ton to get really excited about here. It’s a good film—and certainly an important one for introducing us to these new talents—but it doesn’t stand out as anything other than a solid genre picture for me.

In God-Knows-Where Texas, Abby (Frances McDormand), a bored housewife, begins an affair with Ray (John Getz), a bartender. The bar Ray works at is owned by Abby’s husband, Marty (Dan Hedaya), and he’s suspicious of his wife’s activities, so he hires a seedy private detective, Loren Visser (M. Emmett Walsh), to look into it. He brings the extent of Abby’s infidelities to the attention of Marty, who decides the only way to gain any solace from the situation is to have Abby and Ray killed. Something agrees, but ultimately pulls a fast one on Marty, killing him and robbing him of all his money. Things become more complicated when Ray discovers the body and, believing Abby did the deed, decides to deal with it himself.

The Coens have an amazing ability to play of commonplace film scenarios with their own sense of humor and their own unique characters. This film is standard noir. But it’s full of moments of black humor, especially in conversations with Visser. And the characters are just pathetic enough for us to view this more as an absurd piece of pulp than a dark slice-of-life. I’ve said before that the best, and perhaps only, adjective that properly describes the Coen Brothers’ films is “Coen-esque,” and Blood Simple certainly falls into that category.

In terms of performances, each of the four principals is great. Their roles are fully inhabited, and while they don’t exactly have a ton to do, they’re spot on for what the script calls for. I guess the best of the bunch is probably Walsh, but that’s just because his character is perhaps the most memorable and entertaining.

Despite being made on a shoestring budget (about $1.5 million), the film is put together quite well. The settings reflect the grimy nature of the plot just perfectly. Everyone is hot and sweaty. The bar is as backwoods Texas as you could imagine. And in terms of costumes, it appears some of the worst 80s’ fashion trends haven’t made it down there just yet (thankfully).

As far as film noir goes, this is standard fare, but it does what it should: It introduces you to some interesting characters and keeps you on the edge of your seat. I don’t think this is the stunning debut many have called it, but I see why people noticed these two brothers as rising talents. Their tone is unique and consistent. They directorial sensibilities are strong. And they clearly aren’t afraid to do something unexpected.

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