The Coen Brothers have established themselves amongst the elite of today’s filmmakers. Raising Arizona started their rise to power by making about four times its budget theatrically as well as garnering plenty of acclaim. After a few other successful projects, Fargo instantly catapulted them to stardom, with an Academy Award winning drama (and dark comedy) that captured the cold, barren north quite well. However, their cult following was established with the release of The Big Lebowski, possibly one of the funniest movies of all time.
The ball really started rolling with a movie that not everybody is as familiar with called, Blood Simple, that told the story of deceit and betrayal like so many of their other great movies. Blood Simple opens with Ray (John Getz) and Abby (Francis McDormand) driving down a rural road. The conversation is awkward and the tension in the car is deep. Abruptly, the evidence of them being followed is obvious and Abby realizes that her husband, Marty (Dan Hedaya), is aware of the affair she is having. Abby finally gathers the courage to leave Marty, knowing that there might be some consequences. After a few spats, Marty finally decides to hire a gunman and have his wife and her lover done away with. Private Detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), who Marty had already hired to spy on his wife decides to up his pay in exchange for their deaths. Visser takes the game to new heights by playing by his own rules, changing the outcome of all of their lives.
Blood Simple is a solid example of a great director's first movie. The potential to be every bit as great as the later Coen Brothers movies is there, but the mastering of the arts hasn't been fine-tuned. Don't get me wrong, Blood Simple is an enjoyable tale of backstabbing, but it falls shy of almost anything else attached to Joel Coen (the almost refers to his mistake of Intolerable Cruelty).
The acting in Blood Simple is very unbalanced. It offers fantastic performances by some, and fill-in-the-gap performances by others. John Getz is uninspiring as Ray, with the only thing he portrays in a strong light being his lack of foresight. Getz portrayal of a dumb country boy might have worked if he, himself, didn't seem so dumb. Many aspects of his behaviors and reactions are not believable, and his acting seems to be a bit "strong" at times. Working up the acting totem-poll directs the focus to Dan Hedaya next. Somebody who has proven to be a decent actor, but just appears to have mailed this one in. M. Emmet Walsh's crazy private detective is a well rounded character that has plenty of motives to act the way he does. However, the acting is rounded out by the strong performance of Francis McDormand. She once again steals the show, and often carries the other actors through the scenes.
Maybe the acting wasn't that terrible, maybe the performances seemed shallow and lackluster due to this being an early experience for director Joel Coen and producer Ethan Coen. The rest of their early project seems to display what they were to become. The exaggeration of fan blades spinning or a dog panting put more suspense into a scene than any music would have. The long pauses between dialogue, the intense moments before a gunshot, and the setup of an environment that gives the feeling of these four characters being stranded on their own until there is only one standing. All of this gives cause to multiple instances where the audience watching collectively holds their breath and waits for the next twist or turn.
Blood Simple is an enjoyable tale that fully displays the start of two brothers' journey into movie-maker stardom more than it does anything else. it is a fitting opening for a team that would learn to master the elements that are present in this movie. Blood Simple seems shy of what it could have been had this been the Coen Brothers' fourth or fifth project, but it is solid cinema. It's probably safe to say that a would have felt a greater appreciation had I not such high expectations by seeing many of their other projects first. Honestly, Blood Simple twists, turns and delivers an interesting ending that will captivate many. This is a movie that should be seen even though the promise of enjoyment isn't guaranteed.
The video on Blood Simple is very, um, consistent. The Mpeg-4 presentation has some great aspects but also a few bad ones. The image shows a great upgrade, with a strong third dimension added to the video. The image consistently pops off the screen, looking (in this aspect) as if it was recorded just this year. Black levels are strong and hold more detail than one might expect. However, inconsistency does jump into the discussion when talking about color. Most of the movie is very strong, dark and vibrant with colors holding true. Some scenes do lose that consistency and flutter with orange skin tones, fuzzy colors in the background, and even questionably colored landscapes. These scenes aren’t abundant, so this isn’t as overwhelming as how dirty the print is. The image is grain filled, and not necessarily director intended grain filled but more of an older, inconsistent mess. The movie opens in what looks almost like a snowstorm, and then it balances out. Throughout the movie the grain levels change along with a healthy mix of dirt and scratches. Sure, it is an old print and MGM did a good job cleaning it up, but this one negative is present enough throughout the movie to allow even the typical movie fan to notice it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track fits along the lines of the video with its positives and negatives. Blood Simple has quite a bit of dialogue that can sometimes be drawn out by the rest of the audio track. For the most part conversations are heard quite clearly with a nice, crisp delivery over the front stereo speakers, but every once in a while a volume adjustment is needed in order to better hear what is going on. The audio is great, especially on the exaggerated sound effects of the fan spinning, dog breathing, or car running. In the quiet scenes that are without music and set to be more dramatic, much can be caught that you might not in another movie. Of course this is all in the hand of the Coen Brothers, but MGM did a good job of making sure it was accurately represented on Blu-ray.
Blood Simple shows off the complete lack of extras we’ve seen quite a bit lately from catalogue releases. There’s a commentary on board that is very informative although rather boring. The only other feature added is the terrible theatric trailer.
Blood Simple is really what it is, a glimpse of two brothers that would eventually reach a level of elite. The movie itself is enjoyable, and displays much of the same attitude that Fargo eventually would have. It also is obviously a project early in the Coen Brothers careers that could have benefited from a bit more fine-tuning. The Blu-ray presentation could be described the same way; showing glimpses of greatness with a few inconsistencies holding it down. If you’re a fan of the Coen Brothers or this movie, this is a must own. If you’re not sure, I wouldn’t recommend buying without first giving the flick a test-drive.