For whatever reason, folks love the Coen Brothers’ inaugural feature length film. It’s hard to suss out whether or not people enjoy the film as a film or feel obligated to laude early efforts by the duo, who have unequivocally become one of American film’s cornerstones. Either way, 1984’s Blood Simple is where it all began – and in a part, Sam Raimi coaching the brothers along through financing could be thanked (or taken to task) for enabling the film.
What’s interesting about the feature – apart from it’s vacuous appreciation by pretty much everyone – is the fact that its endlessly referred to as a noir. Of course, the flick’s all crime film and presages some of what would occur during Miller’s Crossing, including the hat fixation. So while there’s a femme fatale (Francis McDormand) and a crooked hired gun (M. Emmett Walsh), the entire thing plays out like a Western as much as a traditional crime film. It might all be dark and dreary, much like a bevy of German Expressionist cinema thought of as noir’s forbearer, but that’s just mood. And fortunately or not, mood is pretty much all that Blood Simple has going for it.
Again, though, this was the Coens’ first feature, so maybe they should get a break. Having people fawn over the film, though, doesn’t make that an easy task.
Beginning with the McDormand characters’ affair, the entire film revolves around what occurs when a woman betrays a (relatively) well connected business man. Seeing as the thing is concerned with Texas and its wide opened spaces, the only gig in town is a bar. And Marty, the McDormand character’s beau, runs that bar.
Marty’s establishment, though, employs a gay named Ray, the silent type. But he’s the one that McDormand chooses to be with, creating the tension and eventual hiring of a hit man. The rest of the story can pretty easily be guessed at. It’s been in play since time began and gets recounted every few years in features like Double Indemnity or whatever relatively recent update’s been levied upon audiences.
Again, though, more than anything, Blood Simple is about mood. And since the dialogue, plot and acting don’t serve to get the thing off the ground, viewers need be appeased by the night-time shadowy antics of all involved. Everything from a late night murder to the body being disposed off in some indiscreet field takes place under the auspices of dark – the latter only lit by a car’s headlights.
In the trajectory of the Coens’ work, even if this film stinks, it’s easy to understand Blood Simple as the duo setting up a place and time. For a huge portion of the brother’s work, the place an event occurs in becomes as important as the plot – which might explain why so many titles are concerned with place: Miller’s Crossing and Fargo for starters.
Regardless of that, Blood Simple is going to be continually well regarded for one thing or another. And while it might be a rather boring watch, it easily trumps Raising Arizona, the brothers’ next effort.