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Classic Films: "Blood Simple"

January 30th, 2003

As The Four Tops song goes, "It's the same old song, but with a different beat..." Blood Simple could be described the same way. It's a thriller with a plot you've seen many times before, a story filled with deceit, lust, greed, and murder. But in the hands of talented filmmakers, a recycled plotline can emerge on screen as energetic and fascinating.

Blood Simple is the debut of Joel and Ethan Coen, the brother team responsible for one of the finest films of the '90s, Fargo. The two obviously grew up watching and studying movies, Blood Simple a clear indication of a subgenre once great but now considered dated: The film-noir. The film is a masterpiece of writing (by both Coens) and direction (by Joel) and is essential viewing for anyone with an ounce of respect for good cinema.

The story unfolds in Texas. Frances McDormand stars as Abby, who's unhappily married to bar-owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) and sleeping with his business partner, Ray (John Getz). Marty's suspicion leads to a private detective (M. Emmet Walsh) who snaps photographs of Abby and Ray in bed. (One of these pictures will come in handy to the P.I. in a way that's sneaky and creepy.)

Marty's jealous rage blows its top and he hires the P.I. to kill both Abby and Ray for $10,000. The P.I., smarter then he looks and acts, distrusts Marty and kills him. Ray mistakes Marty's death as murder committed by Abby and in a scared state, drives the body out into the middle of nowhere and buries it. Abby has no idea what is going on and her trust in Ray begins to fall; the P.I. stalks both, Ray obtaining evidence that could place the P.I. at the scene of the crime.

Sounds jumbled in words but Blood Simple unfolds onscreen marvelously. This is one of the tightest and most suspenseful thrillers of them all with a knock-out ending that switches the roles of Abby and the P.I. beautifully. Joel Coen's direction is a mixture of Scorsese and Hitchcock, intermixing gritty realism with glossy film-noir atmosphere and camera tricks.

Blood Simple was rereleased to theaters in the summer of 2000 in a director's cut, adding sum bits and pieces here and there that the MPAA cut out during the film's original run in 1985. The film is the Coen's best after Fargo and like the best movies still has the power to move the viewer, in this case to the edge of their seats. It's simply riveting and fresh filmmaking.

Matthew Dalton

February 2, 2003

This is part of a weekly series of reviews of classic films.

Source: Information on Blood Simple @ IMDb