Exclusive Features
Anniversaries, Cover Stories, Editorials,
Interviews, Lists, and Comprehensive Rankings

DNA: The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple

on February 01, 2016, 12:00am
view all


old coen brothers photo

Though Blood Simple definitely indulges in some of the popular forms of its era (the lustrous body hair in particular), returning to it is a fascinating study in how fully-formed the Coens were, as far as their understood sensibility is concerned. The film straddles that distinct Coens line between comedy and bracing violence throughout, and if it does ultimately tip toward the latter, particularly in its final third, it’s still wholly and definitively a Coens joint.

Here, they’re most interested in what silence can convey. Many of the film’s key moments (Ray’s realization of what’s happened to Marty and the ensuing scramble, the cat-and-mouse game between Abby and Visser at film’s end) unfold with minimal to no dialogue, and it’s up to Joel Coen to find the necessary notes of drama. And he does. Consider that climactic sequence for a moment. Ray’s dead, and it takes that for Abby to fully grasp the gravity of what’s happening, even as she still thinks it’s Marty who pulled the trigger. From there, the film follows every step, every precarious move and counter-move, until a gun is actually discharged. That’s to say nothing of the haunting shot in which Visser, with his hand impaled on a windowsill, starts shooting through the wall to reach Abby. Only the disco ball-like strands of light illuminate Abby’s terror at what’s happening. It’s an utterly perfect moment of unraveling.

And when the film gets wordy, it does so with the Coens’ signature dexterity. The scene in which Marty opens negotiations with Visser for his services is made all the more haunting by the stillness of it. The shots stay in or immediately around the car for so long that you start to wonder if something isn’t going to happen before the scene even ends. As Visser drops his yokel-esque act in favor of pragmatic evil, quickly, the temperature of the car seems to change. Marty’s already sweating bullets before he even shows up, but now he has a thorough reason.

That’s a good way to illustrate Blood Simple, actually: pragmatism. While the Coens would use a lot of these devices to better effect later (namely with No Country For Old Men), the use of a small cast, a plot full of circumstance, and a tightening claustrophobia in the photography make for a film that’s more exhilarating than most blockbusters at the time, even as it’s built from far less.

Dominick Mayer

view all