Blood Simple. (1984)

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Ethan Coen Joel Coen

Starring

Dan Hedaya Frances McDormand John Getz

Anticipation.

Always a pleasure, never a chore to revisit one of the great debut features of modern times.

Enjoyment.

Miraculously, it seems even better than remembered. Tight just isn’t the word.

In Retrospect.

A film to be envied by veterans and greenhorns alike.

The Coen brothers heroically bleak debut feature still shines over thirty years since its inception.

“Employees must wash hands” reads a sign tacked to the wall of the Neon Boot bar, owned and run by the cuck to end all cucks, Marty (Dan Hedaya). But the sign is a lie, because it’s not just employees who must keep their hands clean, but all the roving, seedy clientele making their way into this shabby watering hole.

And yet, as much as they rub, the ingrained dirt remains, and in most cases, it builds and builds, starting to stain the skin. Abby (Frances McDormand) has grown weary of filthy Marty, her husband, and has begun a broad-daylight affair with young buck barman Ray (John Getz). Theirs is a dutiful, listless kind of romance, more an escape from the rote drudgery of bar work and domestic obligation.

They are, indeed, tired of listening to the sam old song. But Marty is a man who can neither abide nor comprehend such a brazen act of philandering, and so calls on the services of Visser (M Emmet Walsh, in a lemon yellow seersucker suit, held together with sweat) to secure hard evidence of Abby’s infidelity. Once acquired, Marty then feels the need to take things further, planting ten grand on the desk and asking Visser to do whatever he needs to make Abby and Ray go away forever.

Lovingly leached from the hardboiled noir novels of yore, the Coen brothers’ cocksure debut feature remains a smoky paragon of consummate craftsmanship and beat-perfect storytelling. It’s a rare film where ever frame of film feels vital to the whole, each moment adding to or enhancing this deliciously tawdry tale of flyblown killers and tragic lovers.

And even within individual scenes, it seems as if the Coens already know every trick in the book when it comes to building, sustaining and then amplifying on-screen tension. A staggering centrepiece involving Ray, Marty and a little nighttime sojourn to a desolate field (where so much business takes place in the Coens’ world) makes for an almost unmatchably stressful, even when you already know exactly what goes down. This UK re-release is the Directors’ Cut version, which is a tad shorter and sharper than the film’s 1995 video release.

Published 2 Oct 2017

Tags: Coen brothers Ethan Coen Frances McDormand Joel Coen

Anticipation.

Always a pleasure, never a chore to revisit one of the great debut features of modern times.

Enjoyment.

Miraculously, it seems even better than remembered. Tight just isn’t the word.

In Retrospect.

A film to be envied by veterans and greenhorns alike.

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