I literally just finished watching Blood Simple about a half an hour ago. And despite the fact that I'm kinda sleep-deprived tonight -as well as the fact that the first half of the film is fairly slow-paced- nevertheless it drew me in and kept me rapt.
So, I thought I'd write a little something about this movie, about why I found it so compelling, and particularly I want to highlight the many similarities between it and the Coen's much later work, 2007's No Country For Old Men, -because I found the semblance fascinating.
A BIT ABOUT THE FILM:
A few facts for the uninitiated:
Blood Simple was released in 1984 and is most commonly referred to as neo-noir, genre-wise. It also happens to be the feature debut of acclaimed actress Frances McDormand -who would later go on to star in nearly every Coen brother's movie thereafter (although this is their best collaboration in my opinion). One neat tidbit about the history of Blood Simple is that the directors made the trailer for it first, and then used that trailer to raise the 1.5 million dollars necessary to complete it (which took them a full year). It was shot in Texas in 1982, spent all of 1983 in post-production, and finally released the following year.
It was a modest box-office success (but a huge critical success) and pretty much guaranteed funding for the Coen's next, more famous picture, Raising Arizona.
A sort of quasi, non-spoiler plot-rundown would be as follows:
A woman (Frances McDormand) is cheating on her very unlikable husband, and the husband finds out. He hires a psychopathic P.I. to kill said wife and her lover, but the P.I. decides he might just want to kill the unlikable husband instead and then frame the wife (and her lover) for it. This decision sets in motion a chain of events that pretty much overwhelms everyone involved.
Now, while that might not sound anything like No Country For Old Men plot-wise, even so there are a ton of similarities between the two films that surprised me.
HOW THE TWO MOVIES CORRESPOND, DESPITE THEIR DIFFERENCES:
For starters, there's the setting. Like No Country For Old Men, Blood Simple takes place in Texas. An opening plate shot of oil wells immediately apprises the audience of this, and just like the opening pans of No Country, such scenes are accompanied by a monotonous voice over monologue. Another similarity: The murderous (but oddly likable) P.I. is donned in a cowboy hat for the entirety of the movie, and pretty much everyone is wearing boots in nearly every scene (in other words, the costuming is basically identical to No Country For Old Men).
There are a lot of eerily similar establishing shots, too. One especially noteworthy moment takes place around the time that a (semi-) dead body is buried in a field, -after which the camera shows us a wide frame of flat farmland that stretches on and on beneath a dreary sunrise. For me, it called to mind the landscape shots in No Country just before Lewellyn Moss shoots the pronghorn and then inadvertently stumbles across the botched drug deal. (And just as Llewellyn's scene is a lengthy one with sparse dialogue, so the prenominate scene in Blood Simple).
Then there's the very "Coen-esque" theme that tends to dominate their work: A group of disparate characters all unintentionally bring more difficulties upon themselves than they can realistically handle. In Blood Simple, this is particularly pronounced. Take for example the title of the film, which comes from a phrase coined in the 1929 novel, Red Harvest. In the book, "Blood Simple" is a descriptive term used to illustrate the paranoid, terrified mindset of a group of individuals after being repeatedly exposed to violence (which is exactly what happens to everyone in this movie, obviously). In No Country, the characters are overwhelmed by external violence that spirals out of control and becomes something that is beyond their capacity to manage. In Blood Simple, by contrast, the characters are overwhelmed by the fears that both stem from and result in external violence. In both cases, however, the characters are given more than they can deal with. It's just a question of whether they are overcome by external forces alone (No Country) or both internal and external forces (Blood Simple). -Seeing this theme so masterfully addressed in the Coen brother's earliest movie was a treat, and undoubtedly proves by any and all metrics that they are genuinely great storytellers.
There were a few other passing similarities as well; things that tend to be commonplace staples of a good Coen brother's movie, such as their penchant for creating very distinct characters (ever notice how there is never a "stock character" in a Coen film?), unique camera work, and a plot that becomes increasingly intense as the story unfolds. All of this pretty much guarantees that fans of No Country For Old Men will at the very least be interested in seeing Blood Simple, and will be able to appreciate it for its vision, even if they don't love it quite as much.
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT:
There are, of course, a lot of other things about the movie that I liked, or that make it worth viewing. The most significant thing (to me) is that it's the Coen brother's directorial debut, and despite the fact that it's their first feature, it is pretty much flawless. I was amazed at how developed they were as filmmakers at such an early stage in their career and I'm sure that if you're a Coen fan and haven't yet treated yourself to this independent classic, you will be similarly impressed once you do. Everything from the pacing of the plot to the ingenuity of the camera work, to the plaintive, ahead-of-its-time scoring, all of this is a clear testament to their immense talent.
In short, Blood Simple has truly given me a new appreciation for their body of work. And if you enjoy their newer stuff (No Country For Old Men especially), you definitely don't want to miss it.