Film Reviews

BLOOD SIMPLE

By • Jul 7th, 2000 •

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blood-simple (Amer. slang, first used by Dashiell Hammett) 1. State of fear and confusion that follows the confusion of murder; “He’s gone blood simple.”

Usually, when final release prints of a movie are made it is the cinematic equivalent of being set in stone. All the mistakes, shortcuts, and bad decisions made by the filmmakers are forever immortalized. When Joel and Ethan Coen were asked to re-release their debut feature Blood Simple, they used their subsequent success to gain the opportunity to “fix” the film in a new Director’s Cut. They have scrubbed it clean, restored music cues that were lost to rights problems, and in their own words “cut out the boring parts.” Most of the pre-release publicity has focused on the edits that make the Director’s Cut shorter than the original version. However, this is mostly an example of the Coens’ ironic perversity. The edits are minimal to the point of being imperceptible, and are far less important to the new version than the music changes and brand new 35mm prints. Indeed, despite the Coen’s tinkering, both the merits and faults of Blood Simple remain essentially unchanged.

The movie is a darkly humorous tale of passion, infidelity and murder in the tradition of James M Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Trapped in an unhappy marriage to Marty (Dan Hedaya), a miserable Texas bar owner, Abby (Frances McDormand) embarks on an affair with friendly bartender Ray. Unfortunately for them, Marty is the jealous type and has hired a private detective to keep an eye on his pretty wife. When Marty asks the detective to kill the lovers, it is the spark that sets off an emotional and violent conflagration that consumes them all.

Joel and Ethan Coen jazz up this somewhat cliched tale with their now-familiar trademarks: hyperbolic camerawork, deliciously twisty plotting, and some very funny writing. Like several of their early works, Blood Simple sometimes suffers from an excessively mannered quality; a defect that would vanish as they brought out the humanity of their characters.

Even if it is far from the Coen brothers’ best work, Blood Simple is still an amazing debut. The perspective of hindsight has only confirmed Joel and Ethan’s savvy in choosing collaborators. Veteran character actors Dan Hedaya and M. Emmet Walsh were obvious choices but it is amazing how many of the people involved were working on their first feature, including star Frances McDormand, cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (director of Men in Black, Wild Wild West, and Get Shorty) and composer Carter Burwell (Being John Malkovich, Gods and Monsters, High Fidelity, Hamlet, and The Three Kings). Even the voice on one character’s answer turns out to be the then unknown but now unmistakable voice of Holly Hunter.

Seize the opportunity to see this beautifully restored film, especially if you live in one of the cities where it is playing in theaters. As an extra added attraction, the Coens have tacked on a hilarious introduction with a pompous film preservationist named Mortimer Young babbling on about “the early days of independent film.”

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