Saturday, 6 April 2013

Film Review | Blood Simple (1984)

Talk about a "Coen Brothers film" today and many things come to mind - so many in fact that it's difficult to pin down precisely what the ingredients of a film from the minds of Ethan and Joel Coen actually are. Their films will be different experiences for each individual; to my mind, the best Coen Brothers films take any genre that the brothers wish to tackle, shoot it through with a smart story, uncannily authentic characters and wickedly dark humour, and present the whole thing in an offbeat and eccentric style. Blood Simple, the debut feature by Joel and Ethan (credited as director and producer respectively, but in reality sharing the roles intrinsically), contains a great many of these features with varying degrees of success, as well as a handful of flaws rarely seen in the brothers' later works.

Blood Simple is the Coens' take on the neo-noir genre, focusing on the seedy criminal proceedings of a small group of people. This is one of the film's key strengths, as each character is given plenty of opportunity to be fleshed out on screen. The cast are comprehensively strong: Dan Hedaya and M. Emmet Walsh are fantastic as sleazy bar owner Marty and even sleazier private-eye-cum-hitman Visser respectively; Frances McDormand as Marty's unfaithful wife Abby captivates in a mature and expert performance which belies this being her feature debut; only John Getz feels like something of a weak link as Ray, Abby's lover, putting in a performance which never feels up to the standard of the rest of the cast.

The film oozes '80s film noir style, with the Coens never missing an opportunity to have stylish cinematography drip from every frame. The use of camera angles throughout is startlingly individual, and the choices of setting and lighting constantly give the film a satisfying claustrophobic and oppressive feel. The pace of the film is never fast, at some points feeling steady and controlled but at others just feeling intolerably slow, not something which I've ever found to be a problem in the Coen Brothers' later works. The story suffers from the same problem: some scenes benefit from the slow pacing, allowing atmosphere and character to develop, but during others you just wish they'd get on with it. It's a good forty minutes or so into the film before the story actually begins moving forwards.

Ultimately a product of both the time in which it was made and the point in their careers at which the Coen Brothers made it, Blood Simple remains (despite a few missteps) a highly crafted and enjoyable watch. It's a film which indicates the fantastic cinema the pair would create during their career in the thirty or so years following its release, with bold and individual creative and artistic flair throughout that you can't help but be impressed by.


No comments:

Post a Comment