Not every great director starts with a bang.
Francis Ford Coppola toiled in the Roger Corman B-movie mines before striking gold with ‘The Conversation,’ ‘The Godfather,’ and ‘Apocalypse Now.’ James Cameron got his feet wet on ‘Piranha Part Two: The Spawning’ en route to the ‘Terminator’ franchise.
However, ‘Blood Simple,’ the Coen brothers’ first film, immediately showcased the duo’s ability to conquer any film genre they choose.
‘Blood Simple,’ recently released on Blu-ray for the first time along with ‘Raising Arizona’ and several other early Coens features, finds the brothers marinating in classic film noir. The 1984 thriller is so bleak you’ll all but beg for comic relief, but the few laughs found here catch in your throat. These brothers have always played by their own rules.
Frances McDormand (future Mrs. Joel Coen) stars as Abby, a married woman having an affair with one of her hubby’s employees (John Getz). Abby’s husband Marty (Dan Hedaya) learns of her indiscretions thanks to a chatty private investigator (M. Emmet Walsh). Marty can’t get Abby’s treachery out of his mind, so he hires the investigator to kill both her and her lover.
What follows is anything but linear; ‘Blood Simple’ quickly becomes a rage-soaked saga of revenge where few things are quite as they seem.
The Coen brothers have long been accused of talking down to their characters. Here, the key players get too little attention for that claim to stick. ‘Blood Simple’ cares far more about mood, tension and the wickedness in our hearts than thoroughly sketching out Abby or anyone else. The romance between Abby and Getz’s character feels honest at first. Their passion forces them into a dangerous situation, but neither fully trusts the other.
The characters become an afterthought as the Coens’ script takes detour atop detour, showing the audience that the dead don’t like to stay dead for long, and your eyes just might play tricks on you.
‘Blood Simple’ may feel like classic noir on the surface, but the Coens tweak the formula with their sly dialogue and abrupt camera flourishes. You’ll never look at a window sill the same way again after Abby’s showdown with the investigator.
What the brothers’ chicanery can’t camouflage is a weak plot device involving a corrupted photograph, a still which manages to impact almost every crucial event that follows.
However, the fact that ‘Blood Simple’ stands as one of the Coen brothers’ lesser achievements is proof not only of the duo’s greatness but of the consistency they bring to the big screen.
The Blu-ray edition arrives only with the theatrical trailer and a faux-commentary track from Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Films.