In 1984 Joel and Ethan Coen debuted with their neo-noir, tour-de-force, Blood Simple. Three decades and many accolades later the brothers have secured their position as notable and influential filmmakers. Despite expanding on similar themes in the likes of Fargo and No Country for Old Men, Blood Simple feels right at home at the forefront of the Coen’s filmography. Now, for the first time, UK audiences can experience Blood Simple as the brothers intended in the upcoming ‘directors cut’ release.
The plot can be described rather succinctly: A wealthy Texan bar-owner hires an unsavory private detective to capture proof of his wife’s affair. But in typical Coen fashion, such a simple opening soon descends into chaos and confusion as the unethical protagonists venture to come out on top.
The Coens demonstrate a Hitchcock-like proficiency in creating and maintaining tension; to describe the stand-out sequences would spoil the fun, but if you’re finding the first act waning stick with it, your patience will be rewarded. Blood Simple is a riveting story that revels in its simplicity; it’s a straightforward tale free from the didacticism that plagued No Country for Old Men.
Perhaps most extremely evident in Burn After Reading, the Coens have been accused of showing nothing but disdain for their characters. But as Blood Simple shows, this is not always a bad thing. The plot hinges on their stupidity and the story propelled by not only their failure to grasp the gravity of the situation, but their complete ignorance to the situation itself.
Blood Simple demonstrates that a relatable central figure is unnecessary in creating an engaging narrative. Even the victimised wife (Frances McDormand in her debut role) is not a character without sin, demonstrating reprehensible judgement on more than one occasion. M. Emmet Walsh terrifies in his role as the wicked detective, maintaining a frightening presence whether on screen or not, and possessing a similar Terminator-like resilience as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.
The cinematography by future A-List director Barry Sonnenfeld successfully merges traditional noir stylings with modern and experimental shooting techniques. The chiaroscuro lighting takes clear influence from the genre, while the shot in which the camera tracks along the bar top and when encounters a passed out drunk simply rolls on over him and keeps on moving is not something you’d see in the likes of The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. Their later collaborations with Roger Deakins may garner all the praise, but even in their early work their unique shooting style is easy to recognise.
So should those familiar with Blood Simple bother picking up the ‘directors cut’? Well, for better or for worse, there is little to differentiate the two versions. A few tweaks here and there to shot lengths, and the restoration of the originally conceived music. Rather unusually, the ‘directors cut’ clocks in three minutes shorter than the theatrical original. There have been instances where the ‘directors cut’ has entirely reshaped a work, but Blood Simple is not one of them.
The Coens’ body of work is bound by an unparalleled cohesion. The unique style and sensibility their oeuvre possesses has been so ingrained in the consciousness of cinephiles over course of fifteen films that it’s often taken for granted how gifted the Minnesotan siblings are. As Blood Simple proves, the brothers had it from day one.