This 1984 debut film from Joel and Ethan Coen is a dizzying noir of misunderstanding
Arguably every film the Coen brothers have made in their illustrious 33 year career has been a comedy of kinds, from the screwball antics of The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou? to the descending shades of darkness in Fargo, Miller’s Crossing and No Country for Old Men. Their starting point, 1984’s Blood Simple, finds comedy in the vision of a tragedy played out with incompetence. This is an idea they would return to.
Blood Simple begins with a man and a woman driving off into the night along a deserted desert road. They talk about her husband, his boss, and how unhappy she is. Their conversation is terse and to the point. They spend the night in a motel together and wake up to a sinister phone call.
Having set up all the pieces for a cold, calculated noir, the film chooses instead to let us watch what happens when everyone makes the wrong move. The murder, the cover-up, the payback – every stage of the game is played out in perfect accordance with the rules of the genre but each move is motivated by misunderstanding. He guesses the wrong victim, she guesses the wrong killer, everyone ends up chasing the wrong person. The joke is that their actions don’t mean what they think they do. The punchline is that they mean nothing at all.
Shot with a cool eye and a minimal soundtrack, Blood Simple is made without the conviction or budget to realise the Coen vision as fully as their later efforts would, but it remains an accomplished debut and a slick, despairingly funny piece of noir.
In its shiny new 4K restoration, the dark Texan landscapes and flickering neon have never looked better, and the extras house a host of interviews with Coens and cast looking back on the world’s introduction to two of its most revered filmmakers.