Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Blood Simple Is A Sublime Inaugural Directorial Effort For The Coen Brothers

Though Blood Simple may be the very first feature-film directorial effort from The Coen Brothers (like all their earliest works, only Joel Coen is credited due to DGA regulations), this movies does not come off as some sort of watered-down version of the duo's later filmmaking. There's already a noticeably assured hand behind the camera that brings to life a Texas-set noir with real flourish. To boot, it's interesting to note how Blood Simple feels like a combination of two of the Coen Brothers best works that would arrive more than two decades after Blood Simple arrived into theaters. Specifically, Blood Simple combines the grim Southern crime aesthetic of No Country For Old Men with the inexperienced criminals getting out of their element aspect of Burn After Reading.

In terms of tone, you couldn't find two more disparate works in the Coen Brothers filmography, but Blood Simple certainly feels like a precursor to both of those specific features in that regard, though it must be said that the concept of criminals who turn out to be plagued by cumbersome down-to-Earth foibles is not an idea exclusive to just Burn After Reading amidst the duo's work. The exact story that Blood Simple concerns itself with, meanwhile, is kicked off with an affair. Julian (Dan Hedaya) discovers that his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand), is having an affair with another man, Ray (John Getz).

He finds this information out thanks to a private investigator going by the name of Lorren Visser (M. Emmett Walsh), a character who establishes himself as a unique personality right from his first few seconds on-screen. Constantly talking and carrying an easy-going attitude, Visser doesn't blink when Julian asks him to kill Abby and Ray, an assignment Visser takes on once he's assured he'll be financially compensated properly. From here, things go sideways real fast as Visser doesn't follow his instructions on who to kill to the letter and both Ray and Abby soon find themselves getting dragged into the whole gruesome affair.

The chilling nature of this crime thriller stems mainly from how the screenplay, penned by the Coen Brothers, is able to make it clear just how much of this chaos is unfolding as a result of everyone involved being totally inexperienced with the world of crime, there's a messiness to how the characters respond to newfound troubles that lets you know that anything can happen at any time. M. Emmet Walsh is able to make his character the kind of rambling middle-aged country boy one might spot at any old Cracker Barrel with ease, but that doesn't mean that same character can't convey an immense amount of danger when he's on-screen simply due to how you never know just what Lorren Visser is capable of. He could shoot the breeze with you for an hour or he could just shoot you, it's a quietly established sense of unpredictability that Walsh nails in emanating in his performance.

Meanwhile, the visuals of Blood Simple also contribute to its intoxicating uneasy atmosphere. Perhaps the best visual touch of the whole production comes from how cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (who would go on to direct the Men In Black trilogy as well as a number of episodes of the Series of Unfortunate Events TV show) finds a number of clever places to serve as sources for external light. A bug zapper that casts a light on Julian's face for instance or car headlights that provide the only source of light in the darkened night for a frantic Ray, there's a number of moments in Blood Simple that use inventive bits of lighting to expertly craft the aforementioned uneasy atmosphere that conventional noirs run on.

As for the actors in Blood Simple, the highlights are easily M. Emmet Walsh and Frances McDormand, the latter actor making her acting debut here and just as the Coen Brothers clearly have a sense of style of their own in their first time directing a feature-length movie, so too does Frances McDormand burst onto the screen as a tremendously compelling performer in what would be her first but far from last time delivering top-notch acting in a Coen Brothers project. With over 30 years of work under the belts of both Frances McDormand and the Coen Brothers, it's impressive just how much Blood Simple, their first forays into acting and directing, respectively, keenly demonstrates their skills as artists while also working as a sublime noir when seperated from any sort of larger historical context.

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