So, decided to follow up my Wes Anderson retrospective and run through the Coen Brothers filmography, which I have no doubt I’ll enjoy more. I’ve seen probably around half of their films already, including most of their critically acclaimed efforts so it’ll be interesting reviewing on rewatch, and also sharing my thoughts on their films that I haven’t seen before
A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her new man. But, when blood is involved, nothing is simple.
The Coen’s debut film, ‘Blood Simple’ had been a film I’d been wanting to see for ages, and I finally got round to watching it at the beginning of the year. In the spirit of this retrospective, I watched it again last night and unsurprisingly, my thoughts haven’t changed significantly. The film opens with an eerie scene as a couple shrouded in darkness drive through the rain, deep in discussion. Someone is following them, and there’s a sense of danger that is established from the get go through the use of the rain and the soundtrack, which gets more prominent as the film progresses. The early scenes establish the couple in the car as Abby (Frances McDormand) and Ray (John Getz), who works for Abby’s husband Julian (Dan Hedaya). The man following is a private investigator, Loren (M. Emmet Walsh) hired by Julian to find out if his wife is cheating on him, and if so, with who. When Julian decides to take things further, things get complicated when Loren decides to take things in a different direction.
The film is strong in so many ways that I could write an essay detailing each and every wonderful quirk. The Coen’s direction and Carter Burwell’s soundtrack establish an eerie tone and a sense of foreboding from the first minute of the film, that doesn’t let up as the narrative starts to tighten round each of the main characters. The premise itself is fairly simple, but the way the plot unfolds in ways you wouldn’t expect yet makes perfect sense is one of the film’s main strengths. Each key moment and character decision follows a clear sense of logic, even when it doesn’t seem the straightforward choice. As these characters are placed into situations they’d never expect to be in, they make mistakes, they react in unusual ways and it’s truly thrilling to watch the story unfold. I’ve already mentioned Carter Burwell’s score which is simply sensational at building the atmosphere of the film and enhancing key moments – this is supplemented by some great song selections, primarily in the bar, with the use of The Four Tops ‘It’s the Same Old Song’ a particular highlight.
Out of the performances, M Emmet Walsh in particular is wonderfully sleazy as a PI with ulterior motives, whilst Getz, Hedaya and McDormand all have strong moments to shine. It’s particularly interesting watching this film with the benefit of hindsight, and the style developed by the Coen’s here is very similar to the style deployed in many of their future films, particularly in respect to the creation of quirky characters and the use of brutal violence for effect. It’s probably closest in style and story to Fargo out of the Coen’s later films, although both have their clear differences and individual strengths. Brutal, brilliant and meticulously created, this is an outstanding debut film from the Coen brothers, and up there with their best.
Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams and M. Emmet Walsh