Review by Michael Jacobson
John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmett Walsh
Director: Joel Coen
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: September 18, 2001
got a job for you."
if the pay's right, and it's legal, I'll do it."
not exactly legal."
the pay's right, I'll do it."
Simple is a
picture made by people who love movies for people who love movies.
It was the first feature effort by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, and if
it's not the best independent film ever made, it certainly belongs on a very
the brothers would go on to bigger and more expensive productions...some great,
like Fargo, some not so great, like The Big Lebowski...but for my
money, Blood Simple remains their crowning achievement.
Apart from Citizen Kane, I've never seen a debut project radiate
such enthusiasm from every frame about what was being created.
The brothers were experimental, creative, and above all, confident. Money or no money, they created a masterpiece.
pacing of the film is deliberate, but perfect, as the story unwinds like a
crumpled plastic wrap slowly relaxing. It
starts familiarly enough: a bar
employee, Ray (Getz) is having an affair with his bosses' wife, Abby (McDormand).
They are in love, and of course, the husband Marty (Hedaya) is none to
happy about it. He hires a sleazy
private investigator, Visser (Walsh) to confirm his suspicions.
Angered at the discovery, Marty makes the call that will alter all
characters' destinies and shape the outcome of the story:
he hires Visser to kill both Ray and Abby.
recognizable start, right? And
that's as far as I'm willing to go in plot description, because there are
surprises and twists galore from that point on.
Most of the structure of the film works because we know things the
characters don't know. They
are often faced with clues that we understand, but that they either can't
piece together or draw the wrong conclusion from.
The web they are tangled in begins as simple deceit, but gets stickier
with poor communication between them. One
priceless scene shows Ray and Abby having a conversation where neither one
understands what the other is getting at...it turns out to be crucial.
is a dark and sinister slice of film noir set against a Texas background.
The passions are bigger than life all around, and sometimes, the mistakes
are, too. The title of the film
refers to a condition that occurs right after someone commits a murder...the
heightened, fragile state of mind in which the killer usually makes his fatal
mistake. There is rarely such a
thing as a perfect crime, and Blood Simple is filled with the imperfect
kind...the kind that might have worked if not for one critical error.
Coen Brothers, along with cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, have created a
visual playground with this movie. Using
carefully constructed shots and plenty of advanced planning with storyboards,
the camerawork becomes an integral part of the narrative.
Shot after shot exposits, defines characters, and creates real suspense.
Images are repeated, like those of ceiling fans photographed in an almost
fetishistic way. Sounds are
equally important: notice how a
conversation between Ray and Marty near the beginning is punctuated by the
exaggerated pop of a bug zapper, or the unexpected arrival of a rolled up
newspaper, which I don't think has even been used to such devilish perfection
after image in the picture are unforgettable, from the opening credits showing
Ray and Abby driving down a stormy road at night, or the patterns created by
headlights on a motel room wall, or how bullets penetrating a black, dark
barrier leave holes with shafts of light pouring through. Each
of these both serves the narrative and exists outside of it...they're a clear
testament to the love of the art of filmmaking.
the picture is a work of genius because it combines a fluid visual style with a
wicked storyline. Co-written by the
Coens, this is a screenplay for the ages. Things
go wrong and more wrong...people find themselves committing acts they never
would have dreamed themselves capable of, and when they do, it's usually for
the wrong reason.
the film just reflects that all-too-rare quality of a production made by
creative minds in their prime without any outside interference or influence.
Much like Kane decades earlier, Blood Simple carries a
distinctive authorial stamp of artists who knew what they wanted and made their
picture exactly that way. The Coen
Brothers have gone on to an impressive and lucrative career, but to watch their
first feature again is to see two blossoming creators taking on the world, and
smiling every step of the way.
Throw away any other home video version of Blood Simple you
own...this DVD is definitive. One
of the best looking transfers for a picture from the 80s, this restored "director's cut" version boasts incredible coloring, sharp detail, and
most importantly, a sense of image integrity regardless of light level.
Some of the most important sequences take place in near darkness, which
could have proved disastrous with a grainy or distorted transfer.
Here, they are just as beautifully rendered as lighter scenes.
Splashes of color often come in unusual forms, like the exhaust smoke
from a tail pipe that lights up red in the glow of a car's brake lights, set
against a black night backdrop. These
shots are perfectly captured on this disc, with no compression artifacts and no
color bleedings. A superior effort
all the way!
most distinctive aspect of the surround track is the low end dynamic range...in
other words, it's not created by how loud the picture gets, but by how soft it
gets. Rhythms are created by soft
sounds like the whum-whum-whum of the ceiling fans, or the distant sound of
truck brakes. Which isn't to say
the track doesn't come alive with a startling punch from time to time...it
certainly does. The track is
cleanly rendered throughout, with clear dialogue, but not much use (if any at
all) of the rear stage, though I never really missed it.
disc starts off with a nice commentary track...no, not by the Brothers Coen, but
by Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Films, the company responsible for the
restoration of the picture. He
talks about the movie from a fan's appreciation point of view, and it's a
good listen. There is also the
original theatrical trailer (a good one), talent files, and production notes.
Not counted as a feature, but could be considered as such, is the new
introduction to the "director's cut", which is a hoot...it talks about "digital swabbing" and