This is the work of two idiosyncratic brothers toying with cinematic possibilities and getting it right on the first try.
Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
1984 | USA | Crime/Thriller | 99 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean) some violence and disturbing images
Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya
Plot: 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.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize (Sundance)
Source: River Road Productions
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on DVD – first published 8 Jun 2009)
Often known as the ‘two-headed director’, Joel and Ethan Coen have long been the leading American filmmakers of their generation. For more than two decades, they have been making films in which they have complete creative control over. Never once have they succumbed to the temptation to direct big-budget Hollywood blockbusters.
Even their most mainstream works have an arthouse touch to them. In an era of excess riches that come with big studio contracts, there is much to envy the Coens; they have stuck by their roots as independent filmmakers. Yet they have never faced any problem in getting studio funding for their films.
“Never point a gun at anyone, unless you mean to shoot him. And if you shoot him, you better make sure he’s dead.”
Blood Simple is their first feature. Not only does the film showcase what remarkable writer-directors the Coens are, it remains to be one of the sharpest debuts of modern cinema. One of the key films that revived the indie scene at that time, Blood Simple is raw and gritty filmmaking, shot with a shoestring budget, and features a simple story made complex because unlike from the viewer’s point-of-view, the characters are kept in the dark on plot developments.
The film is best appreciated on the second viewing where the brilliance of the Coens’ screenplay becomes more noticeable. Most of the film’s plot revolves around four major characters, each of them suffering from their own set of paranoia; they think that they know everything, but the truth hides under a veil of illusion. The Coens shoot most the film in murky shadows and deliberately darken the surroundings to create an environment which is bleak, sinister, and sometimes, hostile.
Blood Simple is probably the closest the Coens have ever got to making a modern-noir horror film. There are two outstanding sequences in the film: a man gets buried alive in a nightmarish death scene (a first glimpse of the Coens exploring macabre themes which they fine-tuned to great effect in Fargo (1996) and No Country For Old Men (2007)), and a brilliant ending (an example of the Coens’ writing-directing prowess).