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Blood Simple

Rated [R], 97 minutes
Starring Dan Hedaya, John Getz, M. Emmet Walsh and Frances McDormand
Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen
Directed by Joel Coen
no website


When we see the words "director's cut" on a re-release of a film, it usually means the director has stuffed back in everything the studio made (him) cut out, for whatever reason. Sometimes it means a totally new and unique edit (Blade Runner). Sometimes it means the restoration of the kitchen sink (Terminator 2). In this particular case, a fifteenth anniversary restoration of director Joel Coen's Blood Simple, Coen simply states "we cut out the boring parts." More from the mouth Joel and co-writer Ethan Coen, who sat down with our West Coast correspondent Paul Fischer, can be found in CrankyCritic® StarTalk

Coen is quite aware of the hype that surrounds these special editions. In fact, BS2000 opens with commentary by esteemed commentarianist Mortimer Young, PSoA, who details the extraordinary amount of love and care lavished on this first film by editor Joel (Sam Raimi's Evil Dead) and statistical typist (for Macy's Department store) Ethan, to bring it up to modern standards. Young points out that the original film has undergone massive technological improvements, including a frame by frame digital scrub and a completely new ultra-ultrasound remix ("a LucasSound process"). The pipe smoking pronouncements are firmly tongue in cheek and extremely funny; the Coens are fully aware of all the film school ponderosity that weighs heavy on a DC reissue. Then again, the brothers Coen are among the sharpest writers we've got working in the biz. And Blood Simple is not a comedy. For all the rockiness that goes along with a first feature, and it is rocky to start, Blood Simple remains among the greatest thrillers of the last twenty years.

Most first features are obviously small: small cast, limited locations, tight shots to make sure everything will fit in video. Barry Sonnenfeld was DP, another name you should recognize. The film opens on a rainy night somewhere in Texas that may as well be Nowheresville, USA. Marty. Two lane asphalt strips through furrowed farmland. The sound of gunfire, it is implied, is so common that no one thinks twice when they hear it. Ditto for loud music. It may as well be the end of the earth.

(Dan Hedaya) owns the local bar. He's sleazy and a bit dull and possessive of his wife, who he maintains that he loves, even though she doesn't believe him. Wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is very young and, we're guessing, very bored with the fact that she hitched up so young to a relatively older guy. Even with the fifteen year gap, putting McDormand next to Hedaya is quite a contrast.

Marty has hired a private detective, Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow Abby, and he catches her in flagrante with Ray (John Getz), one of Marty's bartenders. There are pictures and there is a confrontation and only fellow barkeep Maurice (Samm-Art Williams) tries to keep order. But Marty, that heavy duty masculine pride cut to the quick, wants his ex to be that way, permanently. And her lover, too, so he makes a deal and goes fishing.

From that point on, everything that every character sees is interpreted the way they want to see it. And every single interpretation is wrong. That leads to some edge of the seat horrifying scenes -- your mind will come up with ideas far worse than what the characters will do, until the Coens catch you unawares and the tension builds until you can't breathe. It isn't that you are drowning in slice n' dice violence -- the title refers to a period of disorientation following the act of murder. Or in this case . . . nah, that would be telling.

Joel Coen's filmmaking technique has improved tremendously since this flick, culminating in Fargo, which helped win (his now wife) McDormand an Oscar. Since we go into each movie with, hopefully, a fresh eye, we can report that the first fifteen or twenty minutes does have the feel and slight slowness of a first flick. Once the story kicks in hard, though, you will be flattened by the psychological twists and turns that play out while various characters try their best to make it to the closing credits.

Highly recommended

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Blood Simple, he would have paid...


We don't normally put rating numbers on reissues. But we are always free to change our minds.

(...and it's Pipe Smokers of America. You'll understand when you see the release)

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