Blood Simple

Joel & Ethan Coen

9/10 (a little slow)

The first Coen film and also the most concise, it serves as proof that there was indeed a point in their career when they still regarded a coherent plot as a useful story-telling device. It also happens to be one of their best.

It’s a suspense-thriller with little comedy but some of the same weirdness that would later come to characterize the director brothers. M. Emmet Walsh’s private detective, with the buzzing fly constantly hovering about his head, is the most memorable of the weird, starting out as an aww-shucks simpleton but revealing himself by the end to be quite sinister. The story itself is basic, revolving around a cheating wife, her murderous husband and a hit gone wrong. It’s the script, camera work, and acting that bring it to life. Frances McDormand is an inspiring heroine in her first movie, and John Getz provides a perfectly understated performance as the leading silent type.

What starts out as a normal story spirals slowly out of control, building suspense so gradually that you barely notice you’re beginning to tense up your shoulders. Lies and tragic miscommunications shape the entire plot in a wonderfully frustrating way. It’s almost unbearable to see what is becoming of the protagonists in front of your eyes. You want to reach out and help them, pat them on the back and point them toward the light. But the Coens have something else in mind (they’ve received criticism for not caring enough about their characters, which I understand but disagree with in this case). It’s deliberately paced, which could be seen as a drawback, but it all works for the slow building of tension which allows for the triumphant release of the finale.

There’s not much more to say without giving away too much. Just see the damn film. You’ll thank me for recommending it.

20 March 2010

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