The first film in my second and final ever match-up in the third round of the 80s US Bracket is from the Coen Brothers, that seems fitting!
Written By: Ethan & Joel Coen
Directed By: Ethan & Joel Coen
A film noir that isn’t quite a film noir, that was my take on Blood Simple., the latest film in my ongoing exploration of the Coen Brothers. The characters are all in a noir setting, and the filmmakers are presenting a noir world. However, with this being a world constructed by the Coen Brothers the basics of the noir are slightly changed. The classic femme fatale is more of an inert victim of circumstance and the classic man doing everything for the femme fatale is more of an impulsive idiot. This is couched in a sense of the absurd, an eye for highlighting absurdity is present in the first film from the Coen Brothers and it is a sense that will serve them well for the rest of their careers.
The absurd nature of the characters actions is more reserved in this Coen Brothers outing, but it is still there and it is the element of Blood Simple. that stuck with me the most. Marty goes fishing, returns to his bar and leaves his fish on his desk. Not an important fact in its own right, but every time the Coen Brothers return to the bar they focus on those fish. There isn’t a real reason to focus on the fish, it serves little purpose within the proper narrative. The focusing on the fish is a sign of the absurdity found within Blood Simple.. A little touch of absurd like the fish is the way the Coen Brothers handle giving life to their characters and in typical Coen Brothers fashion their focus on the absurd paints the picture in a fascinating light.
At the core of Blood Simple. are the performances, and this is not an anomaly for the Coen Brothers. They are great directors, but they also work with a lot of great actors and the combination almost always produces pleasant results. This is the big screen debut for Frances McDormand, and even though she doesn’t have much to do she makes every second she spends on screen counts. John Getz and Dan Hedaya are both splendid in their reserved roles, but the real star of the picture is M. Emmet Walsh as the private investigator. He is equal parts slimy and skilled, a very dangerous combination. Mr. Walsh’s performance also sets the tone for the film. The world of Blood Simple. is weathered and worn down yet deadly, the same features are seen in Mr. Walsh’s face, his body movements, his manner of speech, and his eyes. Of all the great performances I’ve seen from Mr. Walsh his turn as Loren Visser may be my favorite.
The only drawback to Blood Simple. is that the Coen Brothers get in the way of the moody atmosphere of the film from time to time. Blood Simple. does carry some of the feel of two young turks just out of film school who want to show off the skills they possess. A tracking shot from the point of view of a dog for example is a little too flashy for the film at hand. There are moments like that shot where the Coen Brothers overemphasis their skill. While those moments do stick out they aren’t enough to actually hurt the picture.
For being a debut feature Blood Simple. is a heck of a yarn. It is moody and very noirish with enough twists on the tried and true noir themes to feel like a film directed by the Coen Brothers. The acting is superb, and the score is another fine effort from Carter Burwell. With Blood Simple. the Coen Brothers started their paths towards a long career of absurd greatness, but even in their genesis their world view was already formed and that is why Blood Simple. is such a great film.