Blood Simple/1984/River Road, Foxton Entertainment/97 min.
T.S. Eliot wrote that the world ends not with a bang but with a whimper.
In “Blood Simple” banging precedes death, but one life ends spitting dirt; another with a belly laugh. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that “Blood Simple” was the writing and directing debut of first-rate storytellers and masters of neo noir Joel and Ethan Coen. For anyone who saw this movie, now nearly 30 years old, in its initial release in 1984, it must have been exciting to witness the talent of the then almost unknown Coens (Joel was 26, Ethan was 25).
The young brothers made a knowing homage to classic noir, updated for ’80s audiences and heavily injected with dark, often perverse, humor. Not only do the Coens honor the traditions and touchpoints of their ’40s predecessors, they also subvert convention and reinvent visual language to serve the story.
Their original tale of adultery, revenge and murder takes place not in the big city, but in Texas, and they nail the mood of a dusty, sweaty small town where lax morals, lust and lawlessness are the only markers on the vast landscape. The title comes from a Dashiell Hammett reference to a dulled mental state (blood simple) that results from repeated exposure to violence.
Additionally, the Coens get excellent performances from their actors. With little to say, McDormand instead conveys feeling, especially fear, through nervous gesture and subtle facial expressions. Walsh’s gross gumshoe effortlessly glides from mutton-headed and dawdling to powerful and menacing.