Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1984 debut “Blood Simple” is a grounded, intimate, and complex crime story about every-day liars and cheaters. Trust is given wearily and taken back swiftly, blood is shed carefully and remorsefully, and characters often die before putting the whole puzzle together.
“I’m not a marriage counselor,” says Ray (John Getz) in the film’s opening scene. The film follows Ray and Abby (Frances McDormand) as they embark on a heated and passionate affair and how this affair affects their lives. Abby’s husband Marty (Dan Hedaya), a bar owner and Ray’s boss, has hired a private investigator to follow her. P.I. Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) is the catalyst for much of the rest of the film.
This film is the Coen’s least tangential work, only taking a few asides and character moments, and not straying from the overall plot of the film. This allows us to delve deeper into their straightforward storytelling without having to struggle with the larger than life characters found in most Coen films. The lies and deceit leading up to the bloody climax offer the bulk of the story.
However, it’s still a Coen Brothers film. Even early in their careesr, they show an affinity for style with stunning low budget cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld and a haunting, piano driven score by Carter Burwell accompanied by the ever-present ceiling fans. Meurice (Samm-Art Williams) even gets the pleasure of a not-entirely-necessary but nevertheless elegant tracking shot character introduction.
While not being the most stylish and sleek of their films, they still succeed at telling a simple and intimate story in a fascinating way.
At it’s core, “Blood Simple” is a tightly woven crime drama about revenge coupled with moral indifference. Ray’s moral obligation often doesn’t kick in until it’s too late. Self-interest drives the actions of both Abby and Loren Visser. Marty, arguably the most antagonistic, is the only character driven by something deeply personal: revenge.
In the end, regardless of the blood shed and life lost, the ceiling fans keep on turning.
A Few Notes:
- No matter how many times I watch this (this was my fourth), I cringe during the finale.
- I always forget how much I love Carter Burwell’s score here. In general it’s somewhat scattered, but that main theme is pretty fantastic and represents the simplicity that I love in this film.
- I can’t help but feel like Tarantino could have gotten some inspiration for Marcellus Wallace’s mansion in “Pulp Fiction” from Marty’s house here. The use of the intercom is what really sealed the deal.
- Here we get the Coen’s first dream sequence as well. Grounded and meaningful, in my mind this could be their best one other than “The Big Lebowski”.