Blood Simple (1983)

Director: Joel Coen

In 1983, Joel Coen’s debut film Blood Simple breathed new life into neo-noir with this offbeat, shockingly funny, highly stylized virtuoso of a thriller. The film marked not only the arrival of a new, distinct voice in the brothers Coen but also launched star Frances McDormand, who soon after married Joel and has starred in several of their films including what most critics deem their masterpiece, Fargo. The Coen’s films often concern the double or triple crosses involved after a crime goes wrong with humor relying on repetition of key phrases or scenes, and playing with the viewer’s expectations by paying off on devices introduced earlier in the film in ways that even Nancy Drew couldn’t expect. Admittedly off-the-wall yet believable—their simple regional characters seem first like stereotypes (which have made critics feel the brothers are possibly condescending to their “people”) but then become a bit more complicated by the end of the film. It’s striking to me, (being as like the Coens, I too grew up in suburban Minnesota), that they would choose something so alien to their background in liberal, MN as a small town in conservative gun-toting Texas. It could be the old idea of being fascinated by situations that differ greatly from the ones we know—they take a sleazy private investigator, an evil minded bar owner, a cheating wife, and two bartenders in the sprawling nowhereville of their Texas setting and make them a quite fascinating group of losers to behold.

The editing of the piece is brilliant both with the heightened sound effects (the recurring images of ceiling fans whipping violently overhead like the helicopters in Apocalypse Now) and the inventive cinematic editing that links situations and scenes—causing great jumping in time and place in such a grandiose way that it’s darn impressive for a newbie director. Their film has since become such a groundbreaking modern day crime caper that it’s inspired countless directors and appears to be of great influence to John Dahl with his brilliantly shocking and funny Red Rock West. The film was re-released with a new restoration and edit to trim the “fat” by the brothers a few years back and the DVD transfer is incredible… however, maddeningly, the private Coens appear nowhere on the disc or on the commentary itself, but their fingerprints remain as seen by the inclusion of a fake “introduction” from a film restoration expert at the beginning.