Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams, M. Emmet Walsh
Love and money tend to drive people crazy, which becomes the root of several crimes and the breaker of many hearts. These motivations lead to the series of events transpiring in Blood Simple, which shows the beginnings of a legendary duo and results in a scintillating noir feature seeking to thrill.
Ray (John Getz) works at Julian Marty’s (Dan Hedaya) saloon as a bartender and he gains the affection of his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand). Ray and Abby eventually meet up and have sex, thus causing Marty to hire a private detective to gain evidence of this affair and then to kill them for the infidelity.
Joel and Ethan Coen taking on a western noir feature sounds like something I cannot pass up and with their first feature film, they create something incredibly stylish and vibrant. The story has a simplicity to it where a man hires someone to kill his wife and her lover from raging jealousy and the subsequent events put everyone on their guard, including the hitman. However, the characters created within the film have a layered approach to their lives and no one can feel completely safe.
It mixes the western and noir genre very well by blending each of the sensibilities together to create something incredibly riveting. You have the noir storyline and general aesthetic with the use of deep shadows and paranoia with a western playground and characters to fit. The Coen brothers know how to navigate a western feature, which makes adding this different genre something I personally have never seen before. It’s mind-boggling that this was their first feature film, because it feels very composed, even with the areas where you see they improve within their incredible career.
The cast of the feature is small but each of the actors packs a serious punch. Frances McDormand portrays the elusive Abby, who stands out as the most mysterious person of the entire story, at least in the eyes of the men. It appears in the warning Marty gives to Ray when the latter chooses to leave his job at the bar. He warns him there will be a day where Abby looks at him and states “I haven’t done anything funny” referring to her infidelity. A point that should be understandable to Ray considering his affair came at the expense of Abby’s marriage to Marty. Hearing those words alter the perspective of the story where Abby had this innocence at first, but then seems to be untrustworthy as we progress.
Much of the story remains a mystery, which does not stop definitive events from taking place and the violent acts set to transpire. The lighting of the film adds to the mysterious atmosphere and it comes together at its best in the most iconic shot of the entire film. It details someone crawling away from a car with another following with a shovel. That particular shot alone summarizes the feeling of dread Blood Simple douses on you and how it hopes to bury your emotions in the nearest field.
As alluring as it is enthralling, Blood Simple takes us on a journey of deceit and immoral actions leading towards violence. It wraps up every character with their own set of motivations and the lengths they’re willing to go to in order to accomplish it. Everything revolves around Abby, which Frances McDormand excellently portrays by having an aura of suspicion around her in the eyes of the men and not so much with the audience. Serving as the femme fatale and final girl all wrapped into a character under the thumb of men. It demonstrates how the Coen Brothers will further master their crafts as filmmakers in this coruscating debut.