The time is yet again upon us to delve back into the Summer Film Challenge 2012: Apocalypse Edition. This time around, I will be looking at a film which launched the career’s of two of cinema’s greatest today. One that is hilarious yet intense, dark and yet hopeful – one that is so poignant that they had to put a period at the end of the title. I am speaking, of course, about the Coen Brother’s first hit: Blood Simple.
First, a brief summary (with copious unnecessary sass): Some chick who’s with this one guy has an affair with one of his workers. The first guy sets up a hit on her and the other guy but the hitman has other plans. Money and love corrupt and, as is usual for Coen Bros films, everything heads straight for the midwest outhouse in this intense neo-noir thriller – Blood Simple..
What was really interesting to me about this film is that it felt like the pre-cursor/prequel to Fargo. Francis MacDormand lives a life slightly on the other side of the law and through the course of the film, finds the strength she needs to move to Minnesota and become a tough as nails cop. The tone was similar, the intensity of the thriller elements, the viciousness of the violence – all of it felt like the rough, unhewn granite building blocks that were later crafted into the cinematic “Statue of David” that is Fargo.
Let me explain that a bit further. First and foremost, I thought the acting was good for the most part. Both Julian (Hedaya) and Visser (Walsh) came off as very stereotyped characters. Much like what Ryan said about gangsters in Ghost Dog, I felt the direction for Hedaya had to have been “Give your best tough gangster impression,” which ultimately didn’t work that well for me. Walsh’s character annoyed me at first because of the overly blunt Texas stereotypes he protrayed, but as the film wore on I felt he earned my respect, particularly in the final scene. What really worked well for me was the psychosis of Ray (John Getz) and the sly innocence that MacDormand brought as Abby. They both played off of each other very well and I found my favorite scenes to be those between the two of them.
Blood Simple. is a very typical Coen Bros film in that it contains excellent cinematic aesthetics, witty dialogue that respects the audience’s intelligence, and a midwest setting. 🙂 One of my favorite moments is when Abby says something to Ray that Julian hinted at earlier and instead of giving that beat a “LOOK AT ME!!!!” feel, Joel (who directed this film) lets that moment simply slip into your consciousness enough for you to catch it and then moves on. The subtlety is brilliant and the noir-esque visuals enhance that feeling beautifully.
However, as I said earlier, it did have several problems (or perhaps “stylistic decisions”) that irked me and reminded me that this is the first Coen film rather than the most recent. For example, early in the film Ray is speaking to Abby on a pay-phone somewhere that is implied to be far from the city. Yet, the shot cuts from him still speaking to her on the phone to him stroking her hair, which plays as a jump cut. Little things such as allowing him to hang up the phone or having his hand enter the next frame would have helped me connect the dots, and with a 99 minute runtime they certainly could have achieved either or both these ends. Also, I personally am bothered whenever a film fades to black because it reminds me that I am watching a film, and Blood Simple. felt the need to do this extremely often. I don’t mind it as much when it is transitioning from night to day, so there were a few justified times, but it felt overused and became a hinderance to my fully enjoying the film.
Overall, though, I would say that I did rather enjoy the film. It was darkly engaging and had me riveted for most of the time. As I said, it contains the now standard level of visual quality one has come to expect from a Coen film and the writing was indeed very good. It was just some of the minor storytelling elements and cinematic polishing that kept this film from realizing its true potential. The “punchline” at the end is great and I was on the edge of my seat for the last 20 minutes with bated breath. If you are a fan of the Coen Bros or just a lover of Noir stylings, Blood Simple. is an excellent punctuation in the genre and a whole mess of fun. Period.
Boom! Another review done and I am well on my way to finishing this Film Challenge. Ryan and I shared some words on the subject of this film which I think you will enjoy, as well as speaking about his….disinclinations towards Resident Evil. Check those out in the Podcast below!
By the time this review goes live I should have completed the entire Summer Film Challenge, but I still have a few more reviews to go. Soon, I will be publishing the last review for the Classics portion of the SFC12 and I can say that you really don’t want to miss this. In fact you might want to fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy review! So, join me again next time for my review of the 1950 classic All About Eve.