Sunday, 13 June 2010

Revisiting 'Blood Simple'

Blood Simple (1984) Dir: Joel Coen

The first Coen Bros. movie and - in some quarters - still held as their finest picture.  I watched it again this weekend, for the first time in many years. With the benefit of retrospect, it's easy to see what would become Coen preoccupations: low angles, noir-ish mood, characters who act rather than talk - but act stupid, then pay the price for their stupidity.

In many ways, this is the Coen's closest homage to the stories of James M. Cain. True, their later The Man Who Wasn't There is undoubtedly more authentic to the traditions of both hardboiled literature and Film Noir.  But in terms of story, Blood Simple examines similar themes of morality as found in Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity - doomed lovers who make dubious decisions, inevitably questioning their motives toward each other.

Frances McDormand

Frances McDormand shines in a very early role but the real star of the show is M. Emmet Walsh, playing a seedy private eye. Walsh is always good value* but he's probably never been better than he is here, playing an odious, duplicitous man who gets under your skin seconds into his initial scene.

 M. Emmet Walsh

Less compelling is John Gets as Ray - he's saddled with a frustrating inability to articulate what's on his mind, although that's a blame more for the script than for Gets' performance.  The inarticulation of characters (and the price they pay for it) forms an important aspect to hardboiled fiction; perhaps it translates better on page than it does to screen.

Still, it's a taught, compelling thriller, with plenty to admire, not least the pitch-black humour the Coens would go on to be celebrated for.

  That's a hand pinned to the window frame - and those are bulletholes poking through from the next room. You'll have to see the movie to find out what that's all about if you don't know. 

* Movie Lore: Critic Roger Ebert coined a movie edict called 'The Stanton-Walsh Rule', which decrees that any movie starring Walsh or fellow character actor Harry Dean Stanton must have merit.

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