Saturday, February 23, 2008

Film #6: Blood Simple

I thought I'd include one of my first reviews, written for my college newspaper in 1985, in honor of the Coens finally set, 22 years later, to get the recognition they deserve from Hollywood. By the way, this is largely the way the original story appeared, but I've been unable to resist editing it. I can't tell if this is a breach of ethics or what, but certainly full disclosure is at least required. As you will tell, from the outset, I knew the Coens were going to be forces to contend with, however, I must say I knew not to what heights. Anyway, here's the review:


The term “blood simple," as defined in the American Slang Dictionary, is “the state of fear and confusion that follows the commission of murder.” ‘He’s gone blood simple.’ Makes the perfect murder almost impossible.” First-time independent filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have appropriated that term as the moniker for their first film, and it is, in addition to being a blood-spewing refurbishing of cheap pulp, a morbid, sweat-stained, blacker-than black comedy. Sit and consider the term alone and think of the swarthy laughs that could be mined from this pedigreed concept. While you’re at it, try to think of every plot twist, bizarrely-traited character, and outrageously gory situation, and then just give it up, 'cause, really, how could you? Blood Simple marks the most promising and inventive, ostentatious filmmaking debut in quite some time.

Set in flat, hot Texas, Blood Simple begins with Abby (Frances McDormand), a woman in a nightmare marriage, as she’s stealing away from the home she shares with her rotten husband, a Texas saloon owner named Marty (a stressed-out Dan Hedaya). Saying yes to a boring affair with one of Marty’s bartenders (John Getz), she and her new man hit the road, unaware of being followed by Marty’s go-to guy,
Visser. The introduction of this portly, vulgar, yellow-suited snake, played with supreme charisma by M. Emmett Walsh, turns the already energetic Blood Simple into a rocketship. Sheened with sweat, he's a straight shooter with a tobacco-caked drawl and the sort of needling, sleazoid good ol’ boy humor that Walsh has brought to the table in things like Blade Runner, Straight Time, Bound for Glory and even The Jerk. His disrespecting jabs at Hedaya, in particular, caused me to cackle (like when he calls Hedaya's recently bandaged hand a "busted flipper"). As fine as the rest of the cast is, Walsh and, to a lesser extent, the peripatetic Hedaya walk away with the movie.

Director Joel Coen and producer Ethan share the screenwriting credit for this magnificent tangle of fatal misunderstandings. They also share a tasty wit, a mastery of suspense-building, and a restless eye to what might make a shot distinctive, their secret weapon being Barry Sonnenfeld’s camera roaming through haunted settings with impressive precision and often shocking speed.

The Coens also understand tact--when exactly to go over the top with their scenarios. Hilariously frustrated head-slapping and much squirming in the theater seat is a natural response to this errant comedy of missed connections and desperate bids for survival. By the time the final, outstandingly wry line of Blood Simple is uttered, with one drip of life yet to go, you will know we have been introduced to two new masters of filmcraft.

No comments: