A person would have quite a job on their hands to find one of their friends or family members that doesn't love at least one or two Coen brother's films (assuming they watch movies at all). Whether you're laughing hysterically at "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski or pondering the Biblical allegory that is A Serious Man, the Coens' films never lack their signature style and wit. Me: I'm a Fargo and No Country for Old Men sort of guy and could do without half of their other cinematic oeuvre. (Does anyone remember The Ladykillers or Intolerable Cruelty?) I was fortunate, then, to recently revisit their first ever film, Blood Simple, as it has many of the violent and thrilling tendencies that my two favorite Coen films have.
Blood Simple was released the year that I popped out of the womb (10 pounds-12 ounces), 1984. It took me over twenty years to look into the back catalog of the Coens' films (the past has a way with catching up with you), and out of their fifteen major releases, Blood Simple is my third favorite. If there was one word that could describe the 1984 film, I would use Tight. I don't mean Tiiiiiiiiiiiiight like the kids on the streets with their pants hanging below their ass crack and rap music blaring would say (though it surely is that too). I also don't mean Tight like how a Catholic Priest would describe a choice piece of 10-year-old boy. I mean Tight: simple, short, effective and every scene seems placed and played out to perfection.
The plot and performances are great: Julian owns a bar, and he has thoughts of hiring a private eye to murder his wife and lover. The wife, Abby (Frances McDormand, who is so great in Fargo), is having an affair with the bartender of the joint, Ray. The private eye, Loren, is portrayed by M. Emmet Walsh, a familiar face who has appeared in over 100 film and television projects. What follows is a film full of twists and turns of betrayal and murder that are still exciting almost 30 years after the theatrical release date. The characters act like real human beings as they make decisions and mistakes that come back to haunt most of them by the time the end credits roll.
Blood Simple taps into some basic fears that we all would feel if we became involved in a similar situation. A character is shot and blood pools on the hardwood floor. What would you use to clean it up? I hope--for the character's sake--that blood splatter analysis isn't as perfected as it is in Showtime's Dexter. How do you dispose of a dead body? A better question: how do you live with yourself after disposing of a dead body? The motive for all of the action is almost always selfish in its nature--surviving, no matter what the cost. The film is dark but comic too. And a few of the plot twists are a bit over-the-top, but everything seems necessary to add excitement to the proceedings.
The direction, though, is where Blood Simple really shines. Some of the camera angles and shooting techniques are still super cool and original to this day. It's an early example of the masterful work that the Coens have applied in their more thrilling films. The Coens are two brothers that love making films, and that statement is obvious from the first scene in Blood Simple to the last. It introduced the audience to their clever and darkly humorous storytelling abilities and solidified the fact that they were two filmmakers to watch for decades to come, a fact that has come to fruition since the year I was born.