I hope that those of you who have been reading my reviews will agree that I don't tend to be overly enthusiastic about most movies. I try to keep a film's achievements in perspective. Keeping this in mind, here is my advice about Blood Simple: whatever your plans are, drop them. Whatever was supposed to get done, postpone it. Whoever you promised something, fob them off with the best excuse you can think of. In fact, stop reading this review, log out, and proceed immediately to see Blood Simple. Don't let small considerations like ticket prices, several hour drives, or the difficulty of getting babysitters deter you. See this movie at once.
Most of you may be unable to follow this advice immediately, as I suspect that Blood Simple is playing only in Los Angeles and maybe New York. In that case, I suppose you'll have to wait until it opens somewhere near you; you have my profound sympathy. But whatever you do, don't forget this movie!
For those still with me, a few words about Blood Simple. It is an independently made film directed by Joel Coen and produced by his brother Ethan. The two of them also wrote the screenplay. Blood Simple is a film noire, but with far more humor than is expected from that genre. The story concerns a woman leaving her jealous husband, the employee of her husband's she runs away with, and a sleazy private detective. To say any more would ruin at least some of the fun. Suffice it to say that the plot twists and turns like a snake and is unpredictable from start to end.
Just what category to fit Blood Simple into is difficult to say. The film generates incredible suspense, but also has some hilarious moments. It can't truly be called a comedy, though, not even a black one, as its view of the world, presented in a Texan microcosm, is so nasty. There's a lot of blood and some very gory moments, but it certainly isn't a slasher film. Blood Simple is a true original. I've seen a lot of films, but I've never seen anything like it.
The script is excellent, but the real accolades must go to Joel Coen. I'll go way out on a limb and say that Blood Simple is the most promising American directorial debut since Citizen Kane. Coen is unbelievably proficient with the camera. He knows precisely how to stage a shot for maximum impact, more impact than less imaginative folks (like me) would ever have dreamed possible. The editing is beautifully tight, and the editor certainly deserves much credit, as does Barry Sonnenfeld, the cinematographer, who delivers the best looking low budget American film I've ever seen. None the less, Coen obviously deserves the lion's share of the credit. The cinematographer and editor were merely talented assistants; Coen's was the inspiration.
Coen's virtuosity with the camera is incredible, rivaling such masters as Hitchcock and Welles, and yet it is also stunningly original. Unlike DePalma, Coen doesn't try to imitate Hitchcock's camera style, and yet his results are far and away better than DePalma's. In fact, DePalma might as well give up on being the heir apparent to Hitchcock as master of suspense. With one film, Joel Coen effortlessly snatches the title that DePalma couldn't touch with half a dozen pictures and total budgets over 100 times that of Blood Simple. Blood Simple isn't a film that Hitchcock could ever have made, but he surely would have loved it.
What's even more astonishing is that Coen can not only shoot suspense, he can also shoot comedy. Coen actually succeeds in getting a big laugh just with a camera move! No funny props in the shot, no punch line, no mugging or slapstick in the background, just the camera move! This guy is *good*.
Complementing the superlative direction and first rate technical work (and an eerie, effective score from Carter Burwell) are excellent performances. The Coen brothers cast no name stars in Blood Simple, partially because of budget, but also because it gives the audience no handle on who is the "good guy". Many of the faces are a little familiar, but none are so familiar that we feel sure that they may not be disposed of in the next frame. We never know who's safe, which heightens the suspense. John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, and Samm-Art Williams are all wonderful in their roles, but the real honors go to M. Emmet Walsh, as the private eye. Walsh has made a career playing slimy, dishonest country types, but this is his masterpiece. We never doubt that his character is both capable and willing to do anything for money, no matter how nasty, undisturbed by the least suggestion of a scruple.
In my opinion, Blood Simple is the best new American film I've seen in the 80s, and for a considerable stretch back into the 70s. It certainly blows any of this year's Acadamy Award nominees off the screen. I recommend it for all adults. (I wouldn't want to admit to my children, if I had any, that the adult world can be quite as treacherous and rotten as Blood Simple demonstrates, even if it is true.) Those who dislike large quantities of blood and explicit violence may have some bad moments at Blood Simple, but it will be worth it. The gore of Blood Simple is not gratuitous. Every drop of blood, every bullet, every sinister sharp object and blunt instrument has a precise purpose, and the film would be less without them.
I expect that some people will disagree with me on this film, especially those who think of films like Tootsie and Kramer vs. Kramer as the pinnacle of cinematic achievement ("and in such good taste, too, don't you think so, Buffy?"). Some people like only tame films, which won't jump out and bite you with originality. Well, Blood Simple will leave you with more toothmarks than wrestling with a tiger, but the wounds won't be mortal and they'll certainly wake you up. Put in simplest terms, Blood Simple must not be missed.
Back to the review list.