Released by: MGM
Directed by: Joel Coen
Cast: Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, John Getz
Purchase From Amazon
In 1984 Joel and Ethan Coen, two no name ‘wanna-be’ movie makers from Minnesota, delivered Blood Simple – a neo noir of sorts, pulling influences from the old crime movies of the 30s and 40s but infusing them with a modern day spin and a wicked sense of humor.
Julian Marty (played by Dan Hedaya of Mulholland Drive and The Usual Suspects) is a wealthy Texas bar owner who thinks his wife Abby (played by Coen brothers perennial favorite Frances McDormand of Fargo and Sam Raimi’s cult hit Darkman) is cheating on him with one of his bartenders, Ray (John Getz of David Cronenberg’s The Fly). Marty proceeds to hire Visser (M. Emmet Walsh of Blade Runner and the Coen’s follow up, Raising Arizona), to kill his wife and her lover, after his suspicions are confirmed, but Visser has an ulterior motive in mind.
Revealing anymore about the plot of this subtle masterpiece of crime and betrayal would be a massive disservice to anyone who hasn’t yet seen the film – so we’ll leave it at that.
Without heading into spoiler territory we can safely assure readers that Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography is wonderful, perfectly capturing the seedy side of the small Texas town in which the movie is set, and really serving to make the movie just as gritty and hardboiled as it needs to be. At the same time, the camera work keeps the viewers’ eyes peeled for all the little details and nuances that are to be found in the film, from the faint glow of a neon bar sign to the ominous foreshadowing provided by something so simple and common as a bug zapper.
The entire cast is great, McDormand and Hedaya in particular, and they all deliver the films wonderful dialogue with convincing, low-key performances, doing much to dissuade the audiences of the films low budget roots. Though they differ from each other in every way possible, the two performers really suit their parts perfectly, as does M. Emmett Walsh, amazingly skuzzy and sweaty in his role, all Texas machismo in his wide brimmed hat and white suit.
Blood Simple is one of the most impressive debut films you’re ever apt to see, and it not only tells a great story but serves are a precursor of things to come, visually speaking, from the Coen’s later on (the long, drawn out shot of a camera traveling across the bar, slowing down to go over the top of a passed out drunk being a perfect example). Their distinctive visual flair is easily identifiable even this early on in their career, but the film never goes into overkill or lets the visuals take away from the story. So too is their knack for fantastic character development and compelling storytelling, a perfect blend of both style and substance.
MGM presents Blood Simple in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. This has always been a dark, gritty looking film and it’s never really looked brilliant the way a high gloss blockbuster might, but this Blu-ray definitely improves on the DVD in every way you’d expect that it would. Detail is might stronger, texture too, and color reproduction also benefits in a big way. There are some minor specks here and there and grain can be thick at times, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just the way that this particular movie looks.
Audio chores are handled by way of an English language DTS-HD 2.0 mix, no alternate language tracks are supplied though there are optional subtitles in Spanish and closed captioning available in English. The DTS-HD mix is a solid and problem free, offering some nice channel separation up front when it’s called for and remaining properly balanced throughout.
Extras? There’s nothing new here, just the same extras we saw on the previous DVD release. MGM has supplied a trailer, as well as some cast and production notes on the disc, but the real treat is the supposed commentary from a Mr. Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Films, in which listeners are given the chance to hear a very dry and very tongue in cheek track detailing such interesting facts about the film as parts of it were shot upside down and backwards while the actors were forced to deliver their dialogue backwards. The entire track is a joke, albeit a pretty funny one. For such an interesting film though, a real commentary would have been appreciated. Still, what we’re given here is very amusing and Coen fans will definitely get a kick out of it.
On a side note, I don’t really know if it can be considered an extra, per se, but as mentioned earlier, the film is given a short introduction by Mortimer Young that relays a brief history of the films supposed restoration process, and it’s pretty hilarious.
The Final Word:
Although it would have been nice to see a few more extras on the disc, MGM has done a nice job presenting the film in its original aspect ratio as the Coen’s originally intended for us to see it. Blood Simple is an excellent debut from one of the most important and original film making teams currently working in North America and is a must see not only for noir and crime fans but for anyone who enjoys great movies period. The upgrade in picture quality is pretty revealing, and fans of the film should be quite pleased with the increase in clarity, detail and color that this Blu-ray release provides.