Blood Simple (1984)

“Never point a gun at anyone, unless you mean to shoot him. And if you shoot him, you better make sure he’s dead.”

Synopsis:
A controlling bar owner (Dan Hedaya) hires a sadistic private investigator (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill both his wife (Frances McDormand) and the bartender (John Getz) she’s been having an affair with, not realizing he’s putting his own life at stake.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that this “exciting debut effort, directed by Joel Coen and produced by his brother Ethan,” blends “elements of forties noir mysteries (particularly the works of James M. Cain), Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, and present-day horror movies”. He writes that after Hedaya’s order for the fatal hits, “stranger, more complicated things happen” and “everyone on screen becomes untrusting, nervous, and bewildered” — indeed, none of the characters ever knows all that’s going on, while audience members remain surprised in other ways throughout the consistently tension-filled (not to mention blood-soaked and darkly humorous) screenplay. Both McDormand (beautiful and compelling in her screen debut) and Walsh give stand-out performances, while cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld and composer Carter Burwell deserve special mention — though this is the Coen brothers’ show all the way, providing ample evidence of the talent they have continued to collectively showcase for film fanatics.

Note: Blood Simple is an interesting entry in Peary’s book given that, along with Raising Arizona (1987), it represents the beginning of a long string of cult hits by the directing/producing team which would surely be listed in an up-to-date and revised GFTFF, including at least the following: Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), and No Country for Old Men (2007).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Frances McDormand as Abby
  • M. Emmet Walsh as Detective Visser
  • Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography
  • Many visually memorable moments
  • Carter Burwell’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a modern cult classic.

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2 Responses to “Blood Simple (1984)”

  1. A no-brainer must-see. As per my post in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb):

    “Who looks stupid *now*?”

    ‘Blood Simple’: Part of the utter brilliance of this flick is that we’re more or less ‘told’ in its first 5 minutes what is ultimately going to happen – but it’s kept from us. The whole film largely hinges on what we, like the characters, (should or shouldn’t) know or simply don’t know. ~which is why it’s a perfect film for multiple viewings. (And perhaps why – in-between viewings – I can have difficulty recalling what the plot is.) The Coen Brothers’ debut is rooted in a simple idea: the ‘value’ of planting doubt in someone else’s mind. This is done a few times in the script – to heighten the characters’ collective paranoia. Joel and Ethan have Dashiell Hammett to thank for that germ of an idea; the title comes from Hammett’s ‘Red Harvest’ (which I finally read last year): “This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon, I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.” (I still can’t believe this amazing film was made on *just about no money*!)

    I always wanted to see this movie in a better print – and now I have. I found a cheap copy of the original blu-ray and it looks fantastic. Thing is: Now we have 4K editions to contend with. Criterion has released one for this film. But *how* good does a film have to look for us to fully appreciate its worth? Do we have to keep buying new, ‘better’ editions of the same films – for fear of not seeing them at their best? Probably not.

  2. It’s actually a 1983 film but sat around till more or less ’85 before being seen.

    Easily a must. A classic ’80s noir, critically highly regarded and significant as the film that introduced Frances McDormand and the Cohen Brothers to the cinema landscape. A great film and arguably the Cohens’ best.

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