Review Date: April 11, 2004
Released by: Universal
Release date: 4/9/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
With the release of Intolerable Cruelty
last October, the critically praised Coen brothers will be at 10 films on their lengthy résumé. Throughout the years they've conquered various genres, be it the Frank Capra comedy with The Hudsucker Proxy or the Odyssey-esque adventure film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
All their films are good, to be sure, but they've achieved the vast majority of their acclaim through their quirky tributes to the film noir genre. Fargo
won them Oscars, but Blood Simple
, the little 1984 indie film that could, is the movie that put them on the map. Now, nearly 20 years later Blood Simple
has been given the deluxe treatment on DVD. Let us jump inside the quirky little heads of Joel and Ethan Coen now, shall we?
The film begins with Ray (John Getz
) and Abby (Frances McDormand
) driving on an empty road late one rainy night. Lights slowly invade the rear-view mirror, and they discover they are being followed. They stop the car, and the follower slowly passes by. This normally wouldn't amount to much, but Abby is cheating on her rich but cold husband, Marty (Dan Hedaya
), with Ray. Abby and Ray pull up to a motel and 'do the deed', but they are awoken the next morning by a phone call. Just who is it that is following them, and what does he or she know?
The caller was Marty, knowing fully what the two lovers were up to. Out of jealousy and curiosity, Marty hires Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh
), a private detective, to check up on them. Loren takes pictures of the couple, but it doesn't really matter, because Marty already knows what's on them. After lengthy contemplation, Marty decides to pay Loren to kill his wife and her lover. Loren will get $10, 000 just as long as he disposes of the bodies without a hitch. That is the thing about Blood Simple though, bodies just can't seem to stay in one place.
Loren returns a few days later with pictures of both Abby and Ray, but this time they are dead. Marty becomes sick to his stomach, but is ultimately relieved. He pays off Loren and sits back in his chair, but then Loren shoots him dead, or does he? The ultimate question now is, who is dead and who is alive? Who knows what, and what are they prepared to do? There are questions abound until the film's climax, where everything becomes as simple as a drop of water.
For their first work, Joel and Ethan Coen demonstrate amazing craftsmanship and confidence in the presentation of Blood Simple. Shot by future Men in Black director, Barry Sonnenfeld, the film is full of stylish and complex shots that really helps drive the suspense throughout the film. The Coen's had been living with Sam Raimi right around the time this film was made, and plenty of shots throughout Blood Simple echo Raimi's work in The Evil Dead. The frantically kinetic steadicam shots are the most resembling to Raimi's film, but do contrast nicely with the lengthy pans throughout Blood Simple, which helps keep the viewer someone out of place.
Out of place, that is of key importance in Blood Simple. What makes the story so engaging is that nobody, not the viewer or the characters, seem to know who is dead and what is going to happen next. In classic film noir tradition, the characters withhold vital information that make the story much more complicated than it should be. Is Marty really dead, or is he back? Does Ray know that Abby knows that Lorren is in with Marty? It gets a little complicated, but that is part of the fun of Blood Simple.
Although very dark and low key, the irony behind the Coen's script is laced throughout the film. Whether it be in the dialogue, where Loren talks about a man being unable to wipe his behind, or in the camera work, where the camera artfully moves over the body of a drunken bar customer during a lengthy pan, the film is full of that quirky 80's post-modern humor.
is a masterwork on all accounts. The always-wonderful Fraces McDormand gives another solid performance, and character actors Dan Hedaya and M. Emmet Walsh also turn in routinely grimy performances. The writing, as previously mentioned, is quirky and ironic, while still staying true to the roots of film noir. There is nary a sour note in the entire film, it has aged as well as wine. The Coen's have such a fun time playing around with the genre that the final shot, although implied to be towards a certain character, has a whole new meaning. The joke is on us; the Coen's have played us like puppets, and we went along for the whole ride.
Back in 1999, Blood Simple
was restored and redone for a 15th year anniversary theatrical run, so the print used on this disc looks expectedly solid. This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer has a few white blemishes, but overall the print is extremely clean. Since this is film noir, the blacks get a major workout throughout the film, and for the most part they look solid and dark. There are a few scenes with intermittent grain, but the print is mostly relatively sharp. Colors are saturated very nicely, from the neon signs to the red of blood. Given that this was a very low budgeted 1984 film, this is a very good transfer by the fine folks at Universal.
The only track on this disc is an English Dolby Surround track, and it sounds just fine. The dialogue is kept up front with the music and certain ambient effects being pushed to the rear. Dialogue can get a wee bit quiet at times, but thankfully everything sounds nice and clear without any hissing. There isn't really a lot of action in the film, it is more about buildup, so there isn't much more that could have been done with this track. Good job.
Although there is no mention of it on the cover art anywhere, this is indeed the Director's Cut of Blood Simple. In traditional Coen fashion, the attributes of the Director's Cut are just as bizarre as the material in the film itself. There is actually less content in the Director's Cut compared with the original theatrical cut, about 2 minutes less. The running time of the film was padded to be the same though, thanks to a tongue-in-cheek introduction by a "Forever Young" film historian. He assures us that only the boring parts were scraped to make the film look better. The omissions are basically unnoticeable, so this Director's Cut works just fine.
As far as actual supplements go, there are a couple goodies on this disc. The main feature is a commentary by "Forever Young" film historian Kenneth Loring. With a daunting British accent, he describes how shots in the film were setup and talks plenty about what is going on on screen. He reveals that the dog used was actually animatronic, and that in order for some scenes to be shot, a car had to be put upside down. This is of course nonsense, and so is Loring. He is actually an actor hired by the Coen's to read a script they wrote to accompany the commentary. Actual factual information is relatively nil, but if you are into the bizarre this is a fun little diversion. It is too bad the Coen's didn't actually record a real commentary themselves though, because this is certainly a film with its share of quirks.
The only other supplements are a very poor looking red-band theatrical trailer presented in full screen, brief but informative production notes, scant cast and crew bios, and the usual Universal filler (DVD Newsletter web link and some recommendations). While certainly not bursting at the seams, it is nice that Universal took the time to ready a few worthwhile supplements.
is a classic film noir like only the Coen brothers can tell it. It was their first film, and to this day probably remains their best. The audio and video transfers are well done, and the few included supplements are worthwhile. It would have been nice to have more involvement by the Coen brothers on the extras, but beggars can't be choosers. Coen fans will definitely want to pickup this disc, and for those new to the brothers' work, this is the perfect place to start. .
Movie - A
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - B
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Surround
- English Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Commentary with faux historian Kenneth Loring
- Cast & Crew bios
- Theatrical Trailer
- Production Notes