Blood Simple (1984) Dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

A noir film so dark and gripping we’ll hold our breaths until the last bullet.

The key word is simple. The movie is built on a simple story. There are four players in this game: a husband, a wife, a lover, and a PI. The wife Abby (Frances McDormand) cheats on her rich husband Marty (Dan Hedaya) with her lover Ray (John Getz). Marty finds out about it as he hires the private detective Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to spy on them. Scornful and humiliated, Marty offers the PI $10,000 to get rid of the unfaithful wife and her lover. The plan is simple, and everything is supposed to go smoothly and accordingly until the PI decides to outsmart Marty. When he intentionally shoots Marty instead of the couple, it triggers a chain of events and misunderstandings that lead to a climactic bloodshed.

The characters serve as four pieces in this dark puzzle. Each of them plays a typical role. The husband owns a bar, and owns his wife. Not a likeable guy, at all. Money solves problems. If somebody takes what belongs to him, he becomes vengeful. On the other hand, revenge is not his thing. He’s a coward with a weak stomach. He needs to hire another person to take care of the dirty work. The lover contrasts the husband in almost every way. Ray’s got guts to stand up to him, and protect Abby. He’s even willing to kill for her. There are two similarities between them: they don’t talk much, and they both love Abby. It is Abby who is the source of the conflict. On the one hand, she a damsel in distress, almost an abused wife, whom Ray takes under his protective wing. On the other, she’s a pretty femme fatale — she drives Marty to the desperate decision to pay for their murder, and she drives Ray to getting rid of Marty when it comes to it. Lastly, there’s the PI. He thinks he’s the smart ass. He tries to double cross Marty — they both clearly distrust each other. In the end, he ends up in a do-or-die situation with his assumed victims. Eventually, they all get tangled in a web of misunderstandings and understatements.

The movie focuses on details and recurring images to build up intensity. The scenes seem to be in slow motions as if some extra effort was required of the characters to act more quickly. The Coens make us linger on the images, soak in the atmosphere, and breathe the hot, humid, stale air. He perfectly captures the emotions: sweat on the characters’ faces, fear in Abby’s big, blue eyes. Plus, he accentuates the atmosphere of isolation and hostility with short dialogues, fast breathing, sweat and dirt, and a simple piano tune, not to mention the landscapes of lonesome Texas plains and empty roads. At the same time, we can’t forget a few objects that bind the story together: the overhead fans, the silver lighter, and the three bullets in Abby’s gun. The Coens put them in focus for a reason so let’s not forget that. Since it’s a simple story, stripped to the bare bones only, everything is equally important.

Blood Simple is a great noir movie. Intense, absorbing, bloody, and sexy, it strikes with its slow pace and witty dialogues (the less characters say, the more complicated and mixed up the plot becomes). Won’t be disappointed – it’s a must!

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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