Blood Simple [Blu-Ray]
Director : Joel Coen
Screenplay : Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1985
Stars : John Getz (Ray), Frances McDormand (Abby), Dan Hedaya (Julian Marty), M. Emmet Walsh (Loren Visser), Samm-Art Williams (Meurice), Deborah Neumann (Debra), Raquel Gavia (Landlady), Van Brooks (Man from Lubbock), Señor Marco (Mr. Garcia), William Creamer (Old Cracker), Loren Bivens (Strip Bar Exhorter), Bob McAdams (Strip Bar Senator), Shannon Sedwick (Stripper)
Blood Simple, the filmmaking debut of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, has not aged a bit in the two and a half decades since it was first released. Taut, suspenseful, well-written, and superbly directed with a sly sense of black humor, it is a deliciously wicked film noir given a modern bent and reset on the open plains of central Texas. Where evil, guilt, and shameless desire festered in the dank, claustrophobic cityscapes of’40s film noir, here it does so in honky-tonk bars and on endless stretches of empty highway. The key ingredients of a noir-ish murder thriller are all here, namely intense emotions and the willingness to kill because of those emotions, and the plot is deviously constructed to keep the on-screen characters unaware of what is really happening, right down to the movie’s final line of dialogue.
The story concerns the sleazy proprietor of a honky tonk, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya), whose younger wife, Abby (Frances McDormand), has begun an affair with one of his bartenders, Ray (John Getz). Marty hires an equally sleazy, if not sleazier, private investigator, Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), to follow them and deliver proof that they are, indeed, gettin’ it on. But, Marty doesn’t stop at that. He is so jealous and bitter that his wife has betrayed him (even though it is made clear that he doesn’t really love her) that he asks Visser to kill her and Ray. Visser mulls it over for a few moments, then tells Marty to go on a fishing trip for a few days and he will call him when the deed is done.
That is just the set-up, as the movie then follows these four characters as they become mired in misunderstandings, incorrect assumptions, double-crossings, and half-truths. It’s the kind of movie where murder victims aren’t always as dead as they seem, and the wrong person spends an entire night risking his life to cover up a murder he didn’t even commit. The movie works so well because the Coens set everything up very carefully in the opening moments. A conversation between Ray and Marty seems to be just a throwaway moment of male one-upmanship as the jilted husband comes face-to-face with his wife’s new lover, but the dialogue is crucial in establishing not only Ray’s reason for covering up what he thinks is a crime committed by Abby, but also for his not entirely trusting her.
Although Blood Simple was their first movie, it is readily evident from the very beginning that the Coens are masterful filmmakers with a unique outlook and a willingness to experiment. Blood Simple is very much an homage to the black-and-white film noir of the 1940s and ’50s, as well as the hard-boiled detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, with a little of Alfred Hitchcock’s wily sadism thrown in for good measure. Yet, when they stir it all up, it becomes uniquely their own with an authorial stamp that is undeniable.
Blood Simple was made on an extremely tight budget of $1.5 million that the Coens raised themselves. Despite these limited means, the movie has a nice polish--perhaps a little rough around some of the edges--but it holds its own visually, perhaps owing to the sharp eye and inventive use of color by cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who would go on to shoot Raising Arizona (1987) and Miller’s Crossing (1990) with the Coens before becoming a reputable director himself with such movies as The Addams Family (1991) and Men in Black (1997).
If Blood Simple is not quite as great as some of the Coens’ later work, most notably Fargo (1996) and No Country for Old Men (2007), two films with which it shares many similarities, it is because the characters are not quite fully realized. They are psychologically defined and we understand everything they do, but they’re never particularly sympathetic because we don’t get to know anything about them (this is particularly true of Ray, who is quite dull, and Abby, who is never clearly a victim or a tramp). While this is certainly in keeping with the film noir tradition, it still limits the movie’s emotional resonance. Where it could have been deeply involving, it instead is content to merely manipulate our responses, something that it does all too well.
|Blood Simple Blu-Ray|
|Audio||English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 30, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The 1080p high-definition transfer of Blood Simple looks quite good, especially given the film’s age and low-budget status. Like the transfer for the 2001 DVD, this is the restored “director’s cut,” which is actually a bit shorter than the original, as scenes have been tightened to quicken the movie’s pace, and it also reinstates “The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops over the end credits, which had not been included on previous video versions. The image is overall a bit soft, which is reflective of its inherent look, although it still maintains good detail and strong, saturated colors that make Barry Sonnenfeld’s excellent cinematography stand out. The darker scenes tend to be the softest and the grainiest, but without losing too much detail and definition, which is crucial to a movie where most of the action takes place beside dark highways and in the murky backroom of a bar. The two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack sounds good, as well. As much of the movie is dialogue, the majority of the soundtrack is limited to the front soundstage. However, Carter Burwell’s effective piano-based musical score is nicely spread out across the stereo channels, and some sound effects come off surprisingly well. The soundtrack is clear and nicely balanced throughout.|
|The main supplement included on this disc is a screen-specific audio commentary that has divided audiences: Some find it very funny and enjoyable, others think it is an insult to such a fine film and a waste of a commentary track. The commentary is done by the fictional Kenneth Loring, who claims to be the artistic director for Forever Young Film Restoration, but it is most likely one of the Coen Brothers doing a British accent. Loring meanders through the commentary, mostly just describing what’s one screen (“Now we’re driving...,” “Here is the sex scene...,” “Now we’re back at this bar that we’ve had occasion to visit before...”) and offering patently false technical and behind-the-scenes information (“This scene had to shot upside down...”). I can see both viewpoints on this commentary: It is quite funny at times, but you also can’t help but feel that it is something of a waste, especially since it is essentially a joke aimed at cinema aficionados, making fun of their desire to know all the details about a movie’s production. Unlike the commentary, however, the red-band theatrical trailer, which is presented in high-def, is the real deal.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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