Blood Simple. (1984)

Directed by Joel Coen
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her new man. But, when blood is involved, nothing is simple.

Blood Simple is a 1984 American neo-noir psychological crime thriller film written, edited, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

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It was the directorial debut of the Coens and the first major film of cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who later became a noted director, as well as the feature film debut of Joel Coen’s wife Frances McDormand, who subsequently starred in many of his features.

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This film is the Coen brothers’ homage to the great noir thrillers of the golden age. Cheating spouses, feckless private dicks, mistaken identities, a bundle of dirty cash are rendered to their bare essence in the mess of rotting fish sitting on Marty’s desk. The film is notable as much for the audacity of the Coen brothers in getting it made as it is for its success in turning the broad, open expanses of west texas into a claustrophobia unknown even to Saddam in his spider hole.

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It appears the Coens made five minutes of the film to show to investors, though they had absolutely no idea what the rest of the film would look like. They basically sold the mood of the film, and their efforts bore fruit. The film established the Coen brothers as a creative force and Frances McDormand as a rising art house star whose journey would eventually garner Oscar for the Coens’ “Fargo.” I rate it highly for visual appeal, intelligent story and good sheer suspense and terror.

The Coens’ first great piece of cinema

10/10
Author: Max_cinefilo89 from Italy
16 July 2008

As far as directorial debuts go, few are as ambitious and inventive as the Coen brothers’ first film, Blood Simple, as it mixes genres and moods in a way that anticipated Tarantino’s similar experiments by a decade, while still retaining an apparent simplicity, both narratively and formally, that few people originally saw as the beginning of one of American cinema’s most extraordinary careers.

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Set in a stark Texas landscape, Blood Simple opens on a premise that seems to be borrowed from the likes of Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice: someone steals another man’s wife. However, the two adulterous lovers (Jamie Getz and Frances McDormand) do not plan to assassinate the betrayed husband (Dan Hedaya). On the contrary, he hires a sleazy PI (M. Emmett Walsh) to spy on them to carry out some twisted plan of his own. That is, until the investigator goes rogue and the situation escalates in the most grotesque of ways.

This escalation is matched by the Coens’ constant shifts between genres, achieved through lighting, music and camera movements. Noir, straightforward thriller, horror, black comedy:

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Blood Simple is each of these and all of them at once, but the transition is never forced or unnatural; in fact, these transitions occur because somehow the story itself demands that they happen. In a way, this is a film that is aware of its own fictitious nature and toys with it as much as possible – because it can. This has since become a trademark of the two brothers, and it is as fresh and original now as it was back in 1984.

The same can be said of the four main actors: Getz and McDormand (soon to be Mrs. Joel Coen) form a solid leading couple, thoroughly menaced by the sudden ferocity of Hedaya, then best known for playing Rhea Perlman’s dim-witted ex-husband on Cheers (an image he gladly, and expertly, reverses here). And then there’s Walsh, who takes his practically identical role in Blade Runner and increases the character’s unlikability, turning in one of the most brutally charming villainous performances of the ’80s (and of the Coen canon).

Joel and Ethan Coen had a very clear idea of what they wanted to achieve in the movie business from the get-go, and Blood Simple is one of the best examples of this: for 90 minutes, it takes you to a whole new world, one that most people are happy to revisit as often as they can.

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Four Fish On The Desk

9/10
Author: Sword Of The Protector from United States
27 July 2015

Spoilers Ahead:

I know Ebert calls it Noir, it has shadows and misanthropy, all the characters are evil but their is no moral protagonist, ergo, it cannot be Film Noir. Please, watch Out Of The Past, Laura, Kiss Of Death: Film Noir has a moral protagonist who is often killed or if they survive, like Mildred Pierce, they are severely damaged. That is the touchstone, take it from someone who owns hundreds of Film Noir. The shadows and everyone but the protagonist being a rat, these are tangential: the quintessential feature is Morality wins at great cost. Often the moral protagonist is destroyed as in: Kiss of Death, Out Of The Past, Double Indemnity.

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The issue aside, this is a great movie. The fish on the desk what beautiful imagery; that is the existential metaphor for these four. Lauren, the smiling ghoul, with the flies constantly on his body; another well done piece of symbolism. Getz’s Ray is very evocative of Fargo’s killer devoid of the power of speech. Ray is so lost among events which even Marty tries to clear up for him. Watch when Abby uses the very same phrase Marty presciently predicted,”Ray, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I ain’t done nothing funny.” Ray’s fog clears for a moment and he sees that perhaps he isn’t getting the deal of the century he envisioned.

Walsh is the star of this movie: yes, they are on their own. All their plans come unraveled little pieces of fate, a picture left here, a lighter there. The whole structure of their lives collapse like a house of cards.

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The fragility of human life how the structure is interconnected, in a matrix, between these four. The movie, like the later Coen film, No Country For Old Men, portrays the world as a meaningless interconnected web of relationships. One alteration, the killing of Marty by Lauren, brings them all, except Abby into the fly zapper behind Marty. These little mistakes, the lighter on the desk, the picture in the safe unleash a hurricane of unintended consequences. Abby’s planted gun, Lauren not shooting Marty fatally lead to a nightmare for everyone involved. A very well written, suspenseful movie replete with pop out scares. It is unexpected if it is anything. I dare anyone to tell me what is going to happen next the first showing. This gives it verisimilitude because life is exactly like this: unpredictable and chaotic.

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We hear this out of Lauren in the opening narration. No matter how well you plan, life has a way of messing everything all up. It is a nihilistic classic; there is no moral order here. The survivor, the faithless wife, who utters the very words that confirm every word Marty said about her is not a moral protagonist of Classic Film Noir. She is the last rat standing. The film is an exceptionally scary, creepy dark as midnight treasure. It is not for the kiddies. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You know in Greece they cut off the head of the messenger who brought bad news.

9/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
14 March 2012

Blood Simple is directed, written and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen. It stars John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh and Samm-Art Williams. Music is scored by Carter Burwell and cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld.

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Suspecting his wife of having an affair with one of his bartenders, Texas bar owner Julian Marty (Hedaya) hires sleazy Private Investigator Loren Visser (Walsh) to find the proof. When that proof comes, a deal is struck to have the unfaithful couple killed, but this is merely the start of a sequence of events that prove that when blood is shed unlawfully, things are never simple.

The Coen brothers announced themselves to the cinematic world in 1984 with this deadly neo-noir of some narrative substance, that’s in turn resplendent with technical smarts. Taking their cue from the edgy film noirs of yesteryear, the Coen’s wrap their own original bent for off kilter cinema around the vagaries of the human condition. The story always remains interesting throughout, continually keeping the viewer on their toes, managing to remain easy to understand, logical; and this in spite of some required convolution. Humid atmospherics are drip fed into the production, pulsing ceiling fans, seedy motel rooms, barely lighted highways and faces half bathed in shadow, Sonnenfeld’s photography belying the low budget afforded production.

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The characters themselves are soon submerged in a world of misunderstandings, double crosses and murder, this as Carter Burwell lays a score over it that blends a slow piano death rattle with low base throbbing, invoking images of some down on his luck gangster from the 30s lamenting on a bar stool in some back street Speakeasy. Cast are uniformly excellent, but Walsh just about steals it with sleaze, greed and cold blood running through Visser’s veins. The brothers Coen show some of what would become their trademark body bag humour, while some scenes have a disgustingly cruel (gleeful) edge to them. Script is as tight as a duck’s bottom, with dialogue often sardonic, and the final 15 minutes of film, practically dialogue free, is a masterpiece of tension building.

Quite a debut indeed. Essential neo-noir and not to be missed by those with a kink for such occasions. 9/10

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Visual Flair, Quirky Characters & Offbeat Humour

9/10
Author: seymourblack-1 from United Kingdom
16 April 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The first offerings of most filmmakers provide an interesting indication of the directions in which their future output is likely to develop. “Blood Simple” on the other hand is an example of a fully realised entity which contains so many of the qualities and stylistic touches which are now synonymous with the Coen Brothers’ entire body of work that it’s evident just how clear a vision they had of what they wanted to achieve right from the very start. For their debut, they brought to the screen a stereotypical film noir which contained familiar ingredients and themes, such as murder, betrayal, corruption, deceit, double crosses and plot twists and added black humour, gruesome violence and some compellingly eccentric characters.

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The movie has a strong visual style which is produced by clever use of light, shadows and colour and also a variety of typical film noir camera angles. The disconcerting mood which this creates is also further enhanced by the predominantly laconic interactions between the characters and the fact that everyone in the movie is distrustful of everyone else. The screenplay is excellent and the amount of suspense and intrigue generated makes the story intense and very engaging throughout.

Texas bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) harbours suspicions about his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) and hires seedy private detective Loren Visser (M.Emmet-Walsh) to follow her. When Visser’s investigations reveal that Abby is having an affair with one of Marty’s employees, a barman called Ray (John Getz), Marty responds by offering Visser $10,000 to kill the couple. The private detective subsequently doctors a photograph he’d taken of Abby and Ray together to give the appearance that they’d been killed and meets with Marty to collect his money. Marty accepts the photograph as authentic and duly pays Visser his fee. When the transaction is complete, Visser promptly shoots Marty in the chest and leaves the gun (which belongs to Abby) close by.

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The circumstances of Marty’s murder lead to a sequence of misunderstandings and complications. Initially when Ray arrives at the crime scene and sees Abby’s gun, he quickly deduces that she must’ve killed her husband and so he tries to cover up her crime. He moves the body which he intends to bury, into his car and drives down a highway but discovers that Marty (who had appeared to be dead) is still living. Ray goes ahead anyway and buries Marty alive.

Later, when Ray tells Abby what he’s done to protect her and she doesn’t understand, he assumes that she’s being deceitful and this impression is reinforced sometime afterwards when she takes a silent telephone call which he assumes is from another lover. When Abby goes to the bar to check on what Ray has told her, she gets the impression that he must’ve gone to see Marty and got involved in a fight over the amount of wages which were due to him.

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More serious trouble for the couple develops, however, when Visser realises that he’s left a clue to his guilt at Marty’s bar and sets about tying up all the loose ends. This involves the planned elimination of Abby and Ray and eventually brings the action to its gripping and very original climax.

Ray’s an extremely familiar type of noir character as he’s an ordinary guy who’s unwittingly drawn into a situation which he doesn’t understand, where events go increasingly out of control and where he isn’t able to do anything to prevent matters from getting even worse. John Getz is suitably unpretentious in this role and conveys his character’s bewilderment and growing sense of anxiety with great skill. Frances McDormand is also wonderfully understated as the adulterous Abby who’s similarly baffled by what happens and frequently misunderstands what’s going on.

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Julian Marty is emotionally wounded, bitter and jealous and his powerful need for revenge drives him to seek the most violent and permanent solution possible. This is rather ironic considering his evident distaste for the course of action he’s chosen and also the fact that he becomes physically sick on seeing Visser’s photographs. Dan Hedaya portrays Marty’s complex mixture of emotions very convincingly in a performance which contributes strongly to the success of the film.

The stand out performance of the movie is provided by M.Emmet-Walsh who, as the sly, sweaty and totally unscrupulous private detective exudes a brand of wickedness which conveys forcibly the thoroughly despicable nature of his character. His complete lack of morality also makes him very comfortable in his own skin and this quality together with his often jovial demeanour make him particularly disturbing and fascinating. Emmet-Walsh’s ability to capture the whole range of this villain’s characteristics is extremely impressive and compelling.

Considering its low budget and the Coen Brothers’ lack of experience at the time when the film was made, “Blood Simple” is an extremely enjoyable and good quality movie.

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