Before “Fargo,” “Raising Arizona,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “The Hudsucker Proxy,” or “The Big Lebowski” came a little ol’ film from Texas called “Blood Simple.”
Before Linklater’s “Slacker” and Rodriguez’ “El Mariachi” fanned the flames of a crackling indie film bonfire in Austin, came a little ol’ film from Texas called “Blood Simple.”
Before indie filmmaking was cool and had its own cable channels came a little ol’ film from Texas called “Blood Simple.”
To call Joel and Ethan Coen’s landmark noir thriller an influential film is simply stating the obvious. When this sultry, slow burn saga of a sleazy affair turning rotten like fish guts in the Texas sun was first released in 1984, its appreciative audiences immediately realized they were witnessing nothing short of the revival of film noir for a modern day audience. Yet, much like its science-fiction counterpart “Bladerunner,” a film “Blood Simple” resembles in ways beyond the eerily similar casting of M. Emmet Walsh, the feature debut from the brothers Coen seemed to have settled comfortably into retirement; a beloved cult classic out to pasture with a legion of hard-core loyalists.
It may well yet remain there. But with the release of this, as the brothers describe it, “digitally enhanced, tastefully restored” director’s cut, an entire new generation of moviegoers will at least get the chance to squirm in their seats as this gritty, lone star-flavored tale of lust, greed and revenge unspools.
The story is as old as the Bible and as basic as an episode of Jerry Springer. Ray (John Getz) works the bar for sleazy owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya). Driving Marty’s pretty wife Abby (Frances McDormand) to Houston through a driving rainstorm, Ray finally confesses his feelings to her. As Ray admits, he ain’t no marriage counselor. Before you can say “roadside motel,” their long-repressed mutual attraction explodes into a night of heated passion. Unfortunately for the illicit lovers, Marty, who had long-wondered if his unhappy wife was cheating on him, has enlisted the services of despicably sleazy private investigator Visser (Walsh). Armed with photographic evidence of Abby and Ray’s indiscretion, a seething Marty hires Visser to kill them both. It’s here where the double crosses and wire crosses; the misdirections, miscommunications and murderous back-stabbing mayhem really begins.
It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen “Blood Simple.” As a result, with the obvious exception of an amusingly stodgy Alister Cooke knock-off introducing the film and extolling the virtues of digital restoration, I’d be hard-pressed to name an obvious addition or a crucial trim job. There’s no new or dramatic “missing unicorn” scene here; no digitally enhanced bullets thwacking into chests in super slo-mo. Not necessary. The film retains style aplenty on its own.
If Joel and Ethan Coen’s script is thirty pages long, I’m a Pulitzer Prize winner. Doesn’t matter. “Blood Simple” gets the maximum impact out of each word; which leaves plenty of time for the film to look cool as hell; the mood to grow as creepy and black as its characters’ souls. All canted angles and whumping ceiling fans, creaking footsteps, dizzying scene transitions, and sweat — oh, lordy, does this movie sweat! — this is one of the most visually wicked pieces of cinema ever to reach a mainstream audience.
If you remember seeing this film when it first appeared a decade and a half ago, go see this beautifully restored masterpiece on the big screen again. If you’re an MTV baby under, say, thirty years old, and have never seen a movie with fewer than fifty cuts per minute, go see “Blood Simple: The Director’s Cut.” Just sit down in the dark, shut the hell up, and let this Caddie on a slow ride to hell flatten you like an unlucky armadillo on a lonely Texas highway.
I’ve never given a film five stars before. It’s time to make an exception…and it’s a bloody simple decision.