An early effort by the Coen brothers, this is a little like a short story stretched out to feature length but executed with so much suspense and panache that it hardly registers that we are on the scenic route rather than the expressway.
Briefly, Frances McDormand, the wife of the moody and embittered Dan Hedaya, is having an affair with John Goetz, an employee of Hedaya's night club in Texas. Hedaya discovers the tryst through the services of the fat, wheezing, repulsive, but compliant private eye, M. Emmet Walsh.
Hedaya confronts McDormand in her house of adultery and tries to drag her out to his car. McDormand is a tough babe though. She bites his index finger, spins around and kicks him firmly in the jewels. This comes close to being a cliché in scenes in which strong women are attacked by brutal men, and the scripts ordinarily call for the man to groan and clutch his groin for a moment before springing back to the attack. Not here. Hedaya is positively disabled, falls to his knees in pain, struggles back to his feet, stumbles towards his car, down on his knees again, and vomits.
That little scene, in which most of our expectations are violated, is emblematic of the whole film. Nothing goes quite the way it was planned or the way we expect it to. A body that has been shot and remained motionless for hours in a pool of blood comes back to life unexpectedly. But not the way it's usually done, for shock value, as in so many slasher movies.
At any rate, Hedaya re-hired Walsh to kill the pair of sinners and dispose of their bodies. Instead, Walsh double-crosses Hedaya and shoots him with McDormand's little revolver, leaving the weapon behind as a frame. Goetz discovers the body and the gun and, believing that McDormand was the shooter, disposes of Hedaya's half-dead body by burying it alive. I'll skip the ending.
The Coen brothers have found themselves an honest and original style. And it IS original because it flies in the face of modern trends towards loud musical scores, instantaneous editing, wobbling cameras, shock cuts, lots of gutsy physicality, and a general sense of chaos. The pace is leisurely. Attention is paid to details, sometimes relevant (a forgotten cigarette lighter), sometimes not (the brass object on which a cigarette is stubbed out). But all add to the overall ambiance, with an effect similar to Hitchcock's but done quite differently. The art director should get a prize, but so should many other elements -- photography and lighting in particular. What I'm trying to get across is the notion that this -- and the Coen's subsequent films -- seems made for an adult audience rather than a horde of popcorn-eating, energy-drink-imbibing post adolescents. THAT audience will sit aghast during the climactic violence and wonder why they don't see any exploding squibs and why the accompanying score consists only of a muffled Mexican song from next door rather than some electronic, neuron-numbing, percussive assault.
Since 1984, the Coens have had some ups and some downs. (The ups include the near-masterpiece "Fargo".) None of them have been less than interesting. They're a modest, shambling sort of team, the Coens, and judging from the way they look today, they must have been about nine years old when they made "Blood Simple." They're among the most individualistic and innovative writers and directors working today.
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