Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Blood Simple (1984)

Blood Simple is a brilliant modern noir thriller from the brains of Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in the heart of deepest, darkest Texas, the movie follows a chain of events set into action by jealous and violent bar owner Julian Marty. Suspecting his wife Abby of having an affair with one of his barmen Ray, Marty hires a private detective, the insidious Loren Visser, to follow them. When Visser returns with photos of the couple caught in the act, Marty pays him $10,000 to kill them both. What follows is murderous tale of revenge, betrayals and double-crosses, mixed up communications and emotions with some nasty Gothic horror for shock value.

The movie contains all the themes that classic film noir has to offer - illicit lust, betrayal, greed and murder. Indeed in content, Blood Simple comes across like the bastard offspring of classic American pulp writers such as James M Cain and Jim Thompson with a touch of playwright Sam Shepard thrown in for good measure. Style wise the movie takes it's tips from 40s and 50s crime dramas such as Build My Gallows HighCape Fear and The Postman Always Rings Twice, with lots of sparse lighting giving many scenes a threatening edge. What light there is mostly comes from the neon signs inside the bar or a streetlamp outside a bedroom window. And when the light does pierce the sparse interiors, it comes in shards, cutting through slatted blinds or branches of a tree. It's ironic that the one of the only times we see a light bulb on in a room, it instantly results in death.

So with the story and art direction the stars of the film, the performances of the leads come across as a bit functional without being bland. Both Frances McDormand and John Getz put in good shifts as doomed lovers Abby and Ray, without having to show too many emotions apart from an increasing sense of unease as the story unfolds around them. Instead, top acting honours go a pair of great American character actors - the sleazy supporting duo of Dan Hedaya and M Emmet Walsh who play Marty and Visser respectively. Walsh has stared in over 100 films in a long career spanning 5 decades, but I don't think he's ever been better as the repulsive and corrupt private investigator Loren Visser. He plays the role as one part Hank Quinlan from Touch of Evil, one part Rod Steiger from In The Heat of The Night and the rest coming from a wealth of experience.

The world of the Coen Brothers is a strange one. People end up doing very stupid and desperate things for both love and money and it's more often than not those that don't reach for the stars that remain on top... or alive. Motifs and themes are often recycled in their different films, but always in new and original ways. As writer/directors they seem to be able to hop genres at will going from 30s gangster movie (Miller's Crossing) to anti-Hollywood movie (Barton Fink), from romantic comedy (Intolerable Cruelty) to a remake of a classic Western (True Grit), yet always instilling a dark sense of comedy in everything they produce. People die in ridiculous ways like being fed through a wood-chipper (Fargo) or running across a boardroom table and out of an 80 story building (The Hudsucker Proxy). Blood Simple is no different and black humour abounds, in even the most grisly of scenes. Now, about those fish...

Watch the whole movie here...


  1. I just watched my first Coen-film, O Brother Where Art Thou, this weekend, and I was amazed I liked it so much. They are very famous, yes, but I turned off True Grit after half an hour because I thought it was so boring. Maybe I should give it another try. However, this one I will certainly give a try.

  2. Hi Limette - I also recommend Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men. Blood Simple is a good place to start though.

  3. I have to agree with Lime(tte). I loved "O Brother Where Art Thou", but I couldn't get into "True Gritt" or "Fargo". I enjoyed (but didn't love) "The Big Lebowski". I shall have to see about getting "Blood Simple". It does sound like it could be ok!!!!

    I like the simple layout of your blog!!! But the unfortunate part is when I return to China, I'll not be able to see Blogspot anymore!!!

  4. Hi Woman,

    Thanks for the kind words about my blog. That is a shame that it's not visable in China, why is that?

    I'm in agreement with you and Limette over True Grit, it's a slow burning film with not a particularly good pay-off at the end. And yeah I yawned and looked at my watch more than a few times when I saw it.

    Have to say I love Fargo though - a film of superb characterisations with a witty and quirky script and some bloody hilarious dialogue and a few shocks. And all based on the strange,funny and sometimes quite desperate sides of human nature. As Marge says near the end "And all this. And for what? For a little bit of money."