One of several key films from the 1980s that defined the decade in terms of craftsmanship and technical virtuosity, the Coen Brothers’ debut film Blood Simple has been given a 4K makeover supervised by both the directors and Director of Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld, one of several key talents emerging from this film that went onto greater success later on, particularly Frances McDormand, who married Joel Coen in 1984 and appeared in several key films of theirs, including Fargo (1996), for which she won a Best Actress Oscar.
Bartender Ray (John Getz) and Abby (McDormand) are having an affair behind the back of his boss (and Abby’s hubby), Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya), who in turn has hired a private investigator (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow them and to get a bigger sense of where all is going south. It’s unnecessary; as Marty is well aware Abby is playing away. Before long though, jealousy between the group has intensified to the point that Marty wants the investigator to go one step further….
Shot in Austin and around Texas in 1983, but not released in the US until the early part of 1985 (the UK got it in the Spring of that year when the critical acclaim emerged), Blood Simple is still a sharp and deliciously dark noir that encompasses all of the key attributes that helped make Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat another winner at the start of that decade.
Right from the outset, with M. Emmet Walsh’s voice-over setting the scene over a Chainsaw-esque montage of rural imagery, it is a still-highly original piece of Deep South drama, helped along by future and on-going long-term Coen collaborator Carter Burwell’s sparse yet involving score.
The script is as tight as it ever was, keeping attention throughout and little clues and subtleties can easily be missed if you are not paying attention – this film demands focus from the very first frame.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s camerawork is another unforgettable strength of the film, particularly his framing of the Texas landscape and some key individual moments on the open road that evoke the same sense of unease and discomfort that defined Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971)
The performances of the cast are first-rate, particularly Walsh who offsets the dark tone with some quirky humour, but the interaction between Getz, McDormand and Hedaya and the evident knowledge of each other’s illicit acts adds to the overwhelming sense that something is (as the tagline on the original UK Theatrical Release poster stated) dead in the heart of Texas.
Much comment was made about the Coen Brothers association with Sam Raimi when Joel worked as an editor on the original Evil Dead in 1982 and the comparison in style between that and Blood Simple. However, that is where the similarity ends, as their debut film remains a landmark of not only the period, but also the template for everything that followed in their subsequent filmography.
BLOOD SIMPLE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOEL & ETHAN COEN / STARRING: JOHN GETZ, FRANCES MCDORMAND, DAN HEDAYA, M. EMMET WALSH / RELEASE DATE: 30TH OCTOBER