The Coen brothers’ 1984 debut feature Blood Simple is a tense and gritty slice of film noir loaded with dodgy deals, double-crossing and duplicity. It’s perhaps no surprise then that this week, StudioCanal have decided to release a new director’s cut. Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) is the owner of a Texas roadhouse who hires grotesque Private Detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to spy on his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand) – who he suspects is having an affair with one of his bartenders, Ray (John Getz). When Marty’s suspicions are confirmed he asks Visser to murder the two lovers, but things don’t go according to plan.
Critics understandably gushed over Blood Simple upon its original theatrical release, and it remains a remarkably assured initial outing for the brothers Coen. Much of the credit has to go to cinematographer and future-director Barry Sonnenfeld for creating the sweaty, sleazy world the soulless characters inhabit. His use of light, shadow and whirring ceiling fans sets the mood of the entire piece with substantial verve and panache. Meanwhile, M. Emmet Walsh’s bloated homage to Orson Welles’ monstrous Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil (1958) gets all the best lines, and is far-and-away the stand-out performer. Yet even he arguably falls just short of creating a truly memorable movie villain.
It’s easy to appreciate Joel and Ethan’s Blood Simple for the obvious skill and craft of the filmmakers, but it’s not – in truth – a hugely enjoyable piece of cinema; more a promise of things to come. Even at a taut 93 minutes, the plot feels a little stretched and everything moves at a snail-like pace. In addition, aside from Visser the other main characters can come across as simplistic cardboard cut-outs. Chances are, this is the one Coen brothers film missing from the majority of their fans’ collections, yet for the striking visuals alone, it’s well worth a look.