1984. Directed by Joel Coen. (Ethan Coen Uncredited)
A sweltering crime story, Blood Simple is a clinic on storytelling and presentation. A detailed examination of how simple plans can go terribly, awry, the Coen brothers's debut feature is both a shockingly violent and darkly hysterical permutation of the classic noir thriller.
Julian is the owner of a dive bar who suspects his wife Abby is having an affair with one of his bartenders, Ray. He hires a sleazy detective named Visser to find evidence. After getting confirmation of his wife's adultery he hires the detective to kill the lovers. Visser, however has more devious plans. As the bodies begin to drop, secrets become currency in the blistering Texas nights, where nothing is what it seems and casual mistakes lead to devastating consequences.
The Coens wrote, edited, produced, and directed. They achieved funding for the film by using a fake trailer featuring Bruce Campbell. Joel's wife Francis McDormand stars as Abby, giving an interesting take on the femme fatale by presenting Abby as a sultry bar maiden looking for love. Her restrained innuendos and genuine instinctual responses are a testament to the richly layered story the Coens weave with spider-like menace. She is supported by Dan Hedaya, Jon Getz, and M. Emmet Walsh. Hedaya's barely contained fury as the cuckolded husband is a vicious achievement, while his body work in later parts of the film is outstanding. Getz does a solid job as the lover, whose desperate acts of protecting the one he cares for spin things out of control. It's yet another great part of this film, with Getz's character being the least developed and yet so essential to what happens. M. Emmet Walsh is pure lechery as the immoral detective Visser, delivering every line with the perfect amount of covetous subtext beneath a maze of lurid panache.
Barry Sonnenfeld's (debut) cinematography is simply outstanding. He presents the Texas nightlife as a bruised neon angel, both magnificent and discarded, focusing on the used up aspects of the world being explored. The shots of the club have a bar mat presentation while everything beyond is both beautiful and somewhat dangerous. Every shadow hides the possibility of violence, and the light acts as a false refuge, promising that no one ever gets away clean. Sarah Medina-Pape's costume design accentuates the moody proceedings with each character's ensemble symbolizing their core. Visser is rattlesnake like in his tan suit and hat, while Ray's simplicity is shown by his blue jeans and t-shirt.
None of these elements would matter were it not for the genius of the Coen's directorial skills. The central concept of this film is about mundane missteps leading to drastic consequences, from which the only solution is to plunge further into the darkness. The deliberate house of cards framework is pure genius as it presents murky complications in a manner that is easy to follow, with each transgression heightening the tension to near untenable levels, but never going to far. That is the magic of Blood Simple. It knows exactly what it is and the Coens gleefully take you down the sweat stained rabbit hole an inch at a time.
Available now for digital rental or on an eye peeling 4k Criterion Blu Ray, Blood Simple is razor wire cinema. An excellent, take no prisoners neo noir that revels in its dust coated mystique. An outstanding debut achievement, this is a film that is essential for fans of the Coen's work or for those who are interested in a deceptively unique take on the crime genre.
Highly, highly recommend.