Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blood Simple (1984)

Blood Simple, Joel and Ethan Coen's first film, provides an accurate prediction of their careers as filmmakers. The movie is funny and dark, self-reflexive and compelling--but also sometimes off-putting and unpleasant. And it marks the debut of Frances McDormand, whose firm jaw and wary eyes grow into wisdom by the time she confronts full-blown human venality, Coen-style, in Fargo (1996). But back in the mid-'80s she seemed as poleaxed as anyone, hating her husband--played by Dan Hedaya, an actor who all but begs for our scorn--and drawn to a hapless bartender. Everybody gets simple after a while, given all that blood.

Except for maybe M. Emmet Walsh's private eye, the supposed observer who becomes the prime suspect, showing the bush-league baddies what real corruption looks like. In many ways it's Walsh's picture, grimy and calculating, glib and world-weary--but not as wise as he needs to be. The final sequence is suspenseful and raw, like late Hitchcock, with more than a touch of their buddy Sam Raimi's panicked glee over imminent doom.

Blood Simple is interesting as a self-assured debut for the Coens and McDormand; but more than that it stands on its own as a rough-edged noir that warns us what happens when bored, sloppy double-crossers fall in love.

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