Blood Simple Director's Cut Review
The Coen Brothers have a unique voice in film. Their absurd, dark and nihilistic tales of America have been heralded as some of the best stories in the last 30 years. They are incredibly versatile, taking on classic Hollywood genres like the western, the screwball comedy and film noir, turning them into something entirely different. When their first feature Blood Simple was released in 1984, it was widely lauded as ushering in the age of independent filmmaking and sparked millions of cinephiles’ passions for the moving picture. Later the Coens went back to their debut to create a director's cut (despite the fact Ethan was never credited as director on this).
After years of making some of the greatest American films ever including arguably their magnum opus, Fargo, the Coens tried to see what could be improved with their years of experience. Now StudioCanal is releasing this director’s cut into the world again; first comes a new theatrical run, starting on the 6th of October, followed by a home release by StudioCanal on the 30th. So does it still hold up as the astonishing debut that so many critics and fans fell in love with, or is it a slightly stale embarrassment from a two brothers that matured into some of the greatest visual storytellers of all time?
Set in Texas, the film focusses on couple Abby (Frances McDormand) and Ray (John Grtz). However, Abby is already married to a sleazy bar owner, Marty (Dan Hedaya), who Ray happens to work for. Marty hires a private eye, Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), to track this couple and murder them. Visser has different plans and his single action turns the lives of everyone involved on their heads, leading to a spiralling chaotic series of tragic cause and effect.
Plot-wise it seems that the Coens’ distinct directorial voice came fully formed. They take a traditional genre, this time film noir, complete with Private eye, sleazy business owner and detective storyline, and introduce one small thing that breaks the clichéd story pattern. This element is what Visser does to Marty; if the Coens removed this part of the film it might have been a traditional film noir. What it does is introduce that Coen-esque existential element, an element of chaos, meaningless violence, something that didn't need to happen, but through misunderstanding and selfishness has. It is the element of the Coens’ work that really attracts me to their stories; it is a grim, bleak and at times humorous look at the world through the lens of Hollywood genre and Americana.
The Coens have also created some of the most memorable characters in cinematic history, most of whom are played by very talented actors, like Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, John Turturro and George Clooney, so it should be no surprise that the same can be said for Blood Simple. Frances McDormand is a force of nature in this film, losing herself to the role of Abby, as she would to Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Abby at first appears to be the cowering love interest, caught in a loveless marriage, waiting for Ray to save her, but she can save herself and has more of a handle on the situation than anyone else. Everyone also points to M. Emmet Walsh as Visser, a scumbag of a man, who looks like he sweats creepy and brushes his teeth with tobacco. Visser isn't the unstoppable force that No Country's Anton Chigurh or Leonard Smalls from Raising Arizona would be, but he is still a malevolent spirit that invades the film, leading to death and destruction. However, one must shout out to John Getz and Dan Hedaya as who, like Coen male protagonists, picture themselves as film characters. But this point of view leads to their destruction and there is an inevitability to their performances that lends a certain poignancy to the action.
However, the Coens are more than just storytellers, they are filmmakers and as such have a mastery of the filmed image. Even as their first feature, Blood Simple holds a unique visual aesthetic, dripping in neon and vivid dark colours. It has an understanding of light and shade that can be lacking in other films and is filled with shot after shot of amazing cinematography. Coupled with a haunting score from frequent Coen collaborator Carter Burwell, this film is full of atmosphere and beauty.
The director’s cut differs from many other director's cuts by being two and a half minutes shorter than the theatrical version. Most edits have been made as a means to tidy up the film, so a few seconds have been shaved here and there, a few short cutaways have been removed and scenes have been smoothed out. There is no real change to the film, but as The Independent's Clarisse Loughrey states, it can be fascinating to see how more mature filmmakers return to earlier work and change them based on how the filmmaker has developed.
I am ashamed to admit it, but Blood Simple was the only Coen directed film that I had yet to see and I am so glad that I did, now that I have seen it twice (once for the theatrical release and once for the director’s cut) I can see just where the Coens came from and where they are now. This is something that I would recommend to any Coen fan as it presents a sort of cycle to their career, and while the cut was made back in 1995, the fact still stands that it shows how far they have come. But this work, whether you are talking about the original cut or the director’s cut, is still a stand out film that requires and demands your attention. If you are lucky enough to get the opportunity to see this film on the big screen with its 4K remastering, take it, you will not be disappointed.