“If you point a gun at someone, you’d better make sure you shoot him. And if you shoot him, you’d better make sure he’s dead. Because if he isn’t, then he’s gonna get up and try to kill you.”
“I ain’t done nothing funny.”
“Well, ma’am, if I see him, I’ll sure give him the message.”
I snagged tickets for the first screening when a theater near me announced a brief summer run of the Coen Brothers’ debut Blood Simple. A sharp 4K digital restoration, I’m not sure whether this is the original version—a few minor edits and cuts have been made over the years, and a song (The Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song,” appropriately enough) was taken out and put back in. It doesn’t matter, though, because whatever changes were made are imperceptible, as least to me. This version is exactly as sordid, labyrinthine, and suspenseful as I remember.
Written by both brothers with Ethan as producer and Joel as director, everything about Blood Simple. is unique and masterful. The story starts out simple: set in rural Texas, bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand), is having an affair and hires a private investigator, Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), to find out whether he’s right. He is: Visser follows Abby and one of Marty’s employees, Ray (John Getz)—a bartender, of course—to a motel and takes photos of them in flagrante delicto. Soon after, Ray quits his job, provoking Marty to reveal that he’s onto Ray and Abby. Marty asks Visser to kill them, and that’s when things get complicated.
WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!
Visser, you see, is a con man: he takes Marty’s money but doesn’t really kill Ray or Abby—instead, he doctors one of the photos he took at the hotel to look like they’re both dead; he paints on bullet wounds and gives the finished photo to Marty. A brilliant series of events all stemming from misunderstandings—like an episode of a demented Three’s Company—ensues, dragging all four characters into a murderous downward spiral.
Initially shown on the film festival circuit during autumn 1984 before a wide release in January 1985, the Coens’ clever mix of psychology, film noir, and seriously dark humor is unparalleled by anything else from its day—the top three films of 1984 were Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, if that says anything (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=1984). Blood Simple. exhibits the Coens’ distinctive penchant for ridiculously well developed and eccentric characters, perfect dialogue, flawless plot layering and pacing, fierce tension that makes you squirm, misanthropy, and an innovative use of clichés—all hallmarks of their work. This film, which launched not just their careers but also those of McDormand (it’s her first gig in a movie) and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, is done so well it succeeds without a big budget. It’s a solid debut that serves as a blueprint of what was to come from these guys.
(Music Box) A+