BLOOD SIMPLE is the first Joel and Ethan Coen film. Released in 1984, it’s not actually a “Coen Brothers” movie but a film directed by Joel Coen and written by the two of them. If you check out IMDB, you will however see that Ethan is uncredited as one of the directors. All this to say that for whatever reason, early on in their careers, Joel was the credited director before they became the “Coen Brothers”.
The brothers are known for two types of films – dark comedy/film noirs and zany, screwball comedies. BLOOD SIMPLE is most certainly the former. While is has its rare moments of subtle humor, it is a classic tale of adultery, jealousy, murder, and thievery that spins wildly out of control. The Coens were in fine form on their first outing, even if the film isn’t perfect.
Hit the jump for more.
BLOOD SIMPLE is set in Texas and plays out among a small set of characters. Starring John Getz, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh and a very young Coen favorite – Frances McDormand, it is the story of a bartender (Getz) who becomes lovers with the bar owner’s (Hedaya) wife (McDormand). Dan Hedaya’s character then employs a sorry excuse of a man/private detective played by (Walsh) to gather proof of his wife’s infidelity and then ultimately remove a certain someone from the equation.
John Getz plays his role terribly in the film. I had no idea who he was when I was watching it and sort of wondered how he got involved in a project like this. Turns out he was small time actor in the 70s and 80s and has now basically been in every single television show that has aired since… He has no chemistry with Frances McDormand and I hate to say it but she doesn’t really pull her weight in the film either. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt since we know she goes on to do awesome things with her career (aside from TRANSFORMERS 3). But seriously watching them together was like watching two afternoon soap opera actors attempt passion and act jealous towards each other on screen. Not good.
On the flip side of the coin however are Dan Hedaya and M Emmet Walsh. They took the Coen direction and ran with it. Hedaya’s asshole character stewing in quite jealousy was great. Add to that Walsh’s full embodiment of a waste of human life man and you’ve got two absolutely solid reasons as to why this movie works. When they are on screen together, even better. If there is one thing I’ll always remember about this movie it’ll be Walsh’s maniacal cackling…it was the cherry on top of an already eerie performance.
Another beauty of the movie is that it plays out so simplistically until a very frustrating and very botched murder attempt. It’s at this moment that the film really delves into Coen territory and examines everything from jealousy and greed to human error. The use of blood as a constant reminder of what’s transpired was excellent and the fact that they Coens were able to expertly weave the twists and turns so naturally around these completely amateurish human beings so far over their heads was what made the movie easy, and fun to watch. Nothing was forced. While the people involved were so corrupt, they were also human and completely at the mercy of their own abilities. They were sure to screw up and shit hit the fan.
I will address this in a few weeks but it’s interesting to note (from what I remember of these two movies) that elements of the Coen’s later works like FARGO and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN contain borrowed scenes and thematic elements from BLOOD SIMPLE. Their cinematic style is intact from the very beginning. Generally, a director will release a couple of films before he or she has enough industry cred to really beginning sewing their true cinematic vision into their films. You can tell right off the bat with BLOOD SIMPLE that it is a Coen Brothers work: the deadpan dark humor, the twisty and convoluted story line, the hushed dialogue and voiced narration as the film begins, their use of scenic vistas, they way they cross music and sound effects to enhance the sense of anxiety, and of course their love of HUGE ass rooms.
The Bottom Line: 4/5. If you haven’t seen it yet, its worth a watch. Aside from the slow start and the slightly dated look, it’s fascinating to see the Coen Brothers debut with such a strong start. Their style is intact from day one.
Since one of the elements of this Film Experience is to rank the Coen Brother films, in order of preference, I’m going to place BLOOD SIMPLE in the number one spot!
1. BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)
Let me know what you thought of BLOOD SIMPLE. Have you seen it? Have you noticed any recurring elements pop-up in other Coen films that stem from this one?
Leave your comments below or find me on Twitter!