Blood Simple

There's really no justification for a reissue of Joel and Ethan Coen's masterful 1984 debut, Blood Simple. It doesn't fall on a round-numbered anniversary, it hasn't been restored, and the "director's cut" actually takes away footage rather than adding it. (As Ethan Coen jokes, "a pace that was once glacial is now merely slow.") True to their smart-alecky irreverence, the only special feature is a hilarious prologue that mocks the very idea of self-indulgent director's cuts. But however arbitrary its re-release, Blood Simple stands as a high watermark in American independent cinema, a brilliantly plotted and scabrously funny thriller that tweaked the noir genre for a more knowing modern sensibility. With few characters and limited means, the Coens crafted a model of low-budget efficiency and ingenuity, but what makes Blood Simple so enduring is how it mingles the messy business of crime with ordinary, desperate people who don't have a knack for it. Lifted straight from the most elementary of noir novels, James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, the basic premise concerns a passionate affair between a business owner's bored wife and one of his employees. With a face that looks like it's absorbed years of Texas sweat and grime, the memorably sleazy Dan Hedaya plays a bar owner who finds out about wife Frances McDormand's affair with barkeeper John Getz and hires lowlife M. Emmet Walsh to kill them. Due in small part to greed and in large part to human error, it gets infinitely more complicated from there; at the height of absurdity, a man unwittingly frames himself for a murder another committed. Such screw-ups are littered throughout Blood Simple—Walsh's repeated attempts to creep across hardwood floors in cowboy boots is an especially funny running gag—but it's a stretch to claim, as some have, that the plot is staked entirely on the characters' stupidity. As they would explore with more austerity in Fargo, the Coens are interested in how normal people respond when a scheme unravels and cannot be reversed. There's never been a purer metaphor for crime than a blood stain that will never wipe clean.

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