So, let’s try and get this right. A bar owner pays a private detective to spy on his wife and finds that she’s having affair with one of this bartenders. He calls the tec back and asks him to kill them. The bar owner goes on a fishing trip to provide himself with an alibi. While he’s gone, the tec forges photos to make it look as if he’s killed the star-crossed lovers. He claims his $10,000 reward.
On getting the money, he then shoots the bar owner with the wife’s gun that he’d stolen earlier, and leaves. Later, the lover comes, sees his dying boss and the gun and presumes this is the work of his lover, the boss’s wife. He tries to clean up but is interrupted, so he leaves with his boss’s body in tow. As he is driving off, noises from the back of his car show that the boss is still alive.
Interrupted again, this time by a passing car, he tries to shoot his by now very ex-boss. When the gun seems to be empty, he buries him alive then drives off and returns to his lover. He explains to her that he’s cleared up her mess but she has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. He leaves, and returns later followed by the private detective.
The detective shoots the lover dead from the apartment opposite. He tries to shoot the woman but she jumps out of the way. The tec breaks into her apartment, she slips out through the window to the flat next door and pins his hand to the window ledge with a knife. She finds her gun, and shoots him dead, presuming he is her husband. THE END.
Did you follow all that? Well those are just edited highlights. There are whole other subplots to do with a missing cigarette lighter and another barman which only serve to confuse someone with as little brain as me even more. It’s hard to keep track of who is actually dead, who is recovering from their injuries, and who was just appearing in a dream.
Blood Simple was the first film by the Coen Brothers, and at many times it does feel like they’ve thrown 1,000 ideas against the wall to see which of them stick. Some do, some don’t, and some are just plain confusing. It was also the first of a series of films they tried to make in a different genre each time. This is the film noir one, which you can take as an hommage or a rip off depending on how charitable you’re feeling.
Actually it holds up pretty well after 37 (37!!!) years. There’s a lot of unnecessary bleeding and vomiting, which is always a good thing. Some of the set pieces are superb – particular scenes stay with you long after the film is over. And, as you can expect from a film starring Frances McDormand, the acting is great, even if it would have been nice to have heard a few more female voices.
But it is also very bitty, and does have the feel of something made by someone fresh out of film school. At critical points, the film seems just a little too aware of itself, too self-satisfied. The abstruse and complicated plot often seems to be a little too needy – asking us to be impressed by its intricacy. Sometimes it just tries a little too hard to be loved, and feels cold and with too little empathy or emotion.
We have come to treat the Coens as being comic masters, but this is something that they’ve learned through experience. Here, there are a few quirky scenes which may raise a wry smile, but it all felt a little too serious to me for most of the intended humour to work too well. It comes across like one of those blokes, the sort who always at his own jokes, which isn’t always what you want.
I wasn’t the greatest fan of Blood Simple when it came out, it was all right, but the critics seemed to see something in it that eluded me. Watching it with the benefit of hindsight you do see how it is the first step towards later, and imho much better, films that the Coens were to make. For that reason alone it’s worth watching – and for a number of impressive individual scenes. It doesn’t quite cohere into a whole for me as much as it does for others, but it’s a decent start.