In Which Hannah watches… Blood Simple

I feel like I’ve been watching the Coen brothers all my cinema-going life – and that’s probably true: from Fargo onwards they’ve been one of my staples and my favourites. And yet when they made their debut, with Blood Simple I was three. Their longevity and consistency is impressive.

Anyway, this was only my second time viewing Blood Simple, and I remembered very little about it beyond it being very dark. And on second viewing I have two main observations:
(1) I like it and it still works, even nearly 32 (gulp) years on. Despite the intricacies of the plot it isn’t nearly as labyrinthine as I remembered – but as with all the Coens’ later work, it pays to play close attention for the details and atmosphere.  I love that you have to watch, because they don’t just tell story in dialogue, even though they write such great dialogue.

(2) The Coens established some of their major identifiers very early on. Those noticed include (but are not limited to) empty roads, terrifyingly bright daylight, incredible Carter Burwell scores, characters with very literal relationships with the underworld, very realistic violence (in that I can imagine normal people being slightly inept in these kinds of ways, and they actually seem to be affected by what happen ), and extremely black lines delivered absolutely straight.

He was alive when I buried him.

Related to this last – and probably to be pursued as I go – great casts giving great performances. And also pretty great female leads. Jumping ahead a few years, but Marcia Gay Harden’s Verna (Miller’s Crossing) and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Amy (Hudsucker Proxy) are two of my favourite female characters in films. In Frances McDormand’s Abby in Blood Simple we clearly have the prototype of flawed-yet-fascinating women with actual characters the Coens have gone on to create. I may enjoy their broad comedies less, but at least the women in the likes of Intolerable Cruelty and Burn after Reading are as well-roundedly nuts as the men. McDormand here is a wonderful mixture of neediy dependent and instinctively able to survive.

Up next: Raising Arizona.


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