Directed by: Joel Coen
Screenplay by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
"Blood Simple" is a postmodern drama/thriller set in contemporary Texas. When a man discovers his wife to be cheating on him with one of his employees, he hires a Texan PI to off them both for a $10,000 bounty. But in Texas, you always look out for number one and where murder and money is involved, things are bound to get complicated.
Texas sometime in the 1980s. A man and woman are driving on a lonely Texan highway on a dark and stormy night. In the dark silence they converse about tensions back home and bespeak of running away from their past. At least that’s the case for Abby (Frances McDormand), who talks about wanting to run away before she uses a gun on somebody. That somebody is presumably Abby’s husband. Still, tension heightens as Ray confesses his affection, and a precarious VW trails closely on the heels of their runaway car. Nonetheless the two proceed to a cheap motel where Abby begins in a steamy affair.
But it seems Abby’s husband is hot on her trails and an eerie phone call to the motel in the morning confirms such a suspicion. Pan to Abby’s husband, bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) who is also conversing with an “Other”, PI Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh). While Julian listens and looks on in disgust at Visser’s evidence pertaining to his wife’s affair, he finds himself disgusted by the mannerisms of his slimy P.I. who chuckles and laughs his way nonchalantly through the deadly conversation. Then, Julian quickly excuses himself and heads over to his bar where in anger, the latest blondie, Debra (Deborah Neumann) is looking like a nice salve for his wounds.
Still, Ray is employed by Julian, and when he confronts him for an overdue paycheck it seems Ray won’t hesitate in confessing his knowledge of Ray’s complicity in his wife’s affair. What’s more, Marty seems to have a bit of a vindictive side, which includes breaking and entering Ray’s house and nearly killing Abby right then and there save for her aptness in the art of self-defense. A queasy Julian Marty regains his composure and scampers off from Ray’s house, only to meet up with the ‘scum-bag’ PI Visser immediately thereafter. Once again, back in the VW, Julian and Visser plot to kill Abby and Ray for the sum of $10,000.
As Abby and Ray try to catch some shut eye the following night, the former of the two finds herself struggling to sleep. Once again, it seems her suspicions are confirmed as PI Visser lurks through the house, Abby’s pistol in hand, prepared to kill off his targets. The film only allows the audience to witness the “innocent victims” sleeping soundlessly in their beds, then the film pans to the uncomfortable scene where PI Vesser and Marty exchange banter in lieu of Vesser’s awaiting payment for the “deed”.
Providing pictures proving the fates of his two “targets”, Vesser waits for Marty to place the $10,000 on the table, then it seems another target lay in waiting. Vesser loads his gun and kills Marty on the spot, dispensing of the murder weapon in a way so as to make it seem like Marty committed suicide. Then, carefully, Vesser offs with the $10,000 in his pockets.
Pan now to a very “alive” and breathing Ray who has gone to the bar in hopes of getting his rightfully earned paycheck. Here, Ray finds Marty dead in his office, only after he accidentally sets off a pistol lying askew on the floor. Then, foolishly, he picks up the murder weapon. Of course the weapon is none other than Abby’s gun and one immediately suspects that Ray believes Abby to be the attempted killer. As he equally foolishly places the gun on the table he begins to try to clean up the murder scene, to no avail. Rather than clean the fingerprints off the gun, he cleans the floor. Then he takes Marty’s body, gun in his left pocket.
Of course what’s even more surprising is his realization that Marty is in fact not dead. As he crawls out of Ray’s car and onto the street Ray now finds himself in a complicated scenario. To kill or not to kill, that is the question. With a big rig on the way down the highway, the climax is suspended, if only for a moment, as Ray is forced to help Marty back into the car.
Pan now to Ray digging Marty’s grave. Assumedly he will bury Marty alive. Pan down to Marty struggling for breath we watch Ray fill his grave that is, until Marty manages to pull a trigger on him. Coincidentally, tragic irony strikes, no pun intended. The gun misfires. So it seems its empty. And so Ray continues. The burial is complete. As the sun rises and the dirt crop field exposes the deep tracks of the car and the desecrated ground where Marty’s body is buried, how Ray manages to think he’ll get away with it is beyond comprehension, still he coolly drives away from the crime scene. Its only a matter of time and hope that Ray awaits the final closure of the “case” so to speak.
Still, when Ray heads over to Abby’s house the tension of the murder and the confusion of the truth behind “who done it” makes the situation more than a bit complicated. Ray quickly heads out and, the next time Abby finds him, he’s all packed up and ready to leave town. But it looks like Ray won’t be leaving, and perhaps neither will Abby thanks to a new perpetrator and Abby’s recent apartment which is lacking the certain security of say, curtains.
“Blood Simple” is a provocative, thoughtful, and compelling thriller from the 1980s. This is a tour de force and its small-time cast goes hand-in-hand with the realism and psychological depth of the film’s visionaries, the Coen bros. This film is gritty, well-paced, graphic, and above all, compellingly deep. What most thrillers, specifically 1980s thrillers are wanting “Blood Simple” delivers. As one critic notes, “Pricey (& needy) actors would have ruined this movie. (See Ladykillers) Who cares if they're subdued? It's not about the perfs, it's about the thought you bring to it. This is a "post-Method" movie and it's extremely clever and deep”. Frances McDormand arrests the audiences with her child-woman portrayal of Abby. Likewise Dan Hedaya is the perfect cast for the slimy albeit human and occasionally sympathetic Julian Marty. So too is John Getz well cast as the stoically thought-provoking Ray. Emmet Walsh is simply disturbing, in a good way. The everyday-ness to the casts’ performances is what makes “Blood Simple” so effective. It’s tangible, its realistic, and that is what is terrifying.
“Blood Simple” is a great postmodern vision of the mechanical world contrasted to the natural niceties of its past. Set in rural Texas the film “paints the world as a chilly machine set in motion by human idiocy and implicates a God indifferent to all manner of human suffering. The spare conceits of this movie are perfectly scaled”. Juxtaposed with the icy harmony of bullet and gun are beautiful sunsets spilling through Abby’s ramshackle apartment, and occasional glimpses of breezy Texan foliage. In “Blood Simple”, humans are their own enemy; destroyers, murderers, killers of all they touch and lust after.
The score is simple, understated, and relies on the successful implementation of acoustic beats, varied in electronic rhythms and sounds appropriate to the 1980’s techno-influenced soundtracks. Too much in the way of a score would have meant disaster for the film. Like its actors, its sets, everything in “Blood Simple” is understated, and recedes into the background so that the psychological can take center stage above all.
Though the movie might tend towards the slow side, this is mainly because the film has a major psychological bent. “Blood Simple” relies on the intricacy of film shots - the alteration between close-ups, panoramic, and the acute observation of the “little things” in the film are what provide a solid basis for much of the tension mounting to the films’ compelling denouement. If one takes into consideration that this film, though providing enough graphic content to interest even the most blood-thirsty viewers, still leaves the realm of psychological depth and introspective reflection in its wake, then one might reconsider the pacing. Now, the pacing seems well though-out. “Blood Simple” marches on methodically, appropriately mimetic to its constructed “mechanic” world, like a marathon runner coming in on the finish line. Extending the marathon metaphor into a cheesy cliché, “Blood Simple” is simply a winner.
“Blood Simple” received 4 awards and 5 nominations from varying critical film award associations. Among some of its awards, “Blood Simple” garnered the Independent Spirit Award for Best Director (Joel Coen) and Best Male Lead (M. Emmet Walsh) and the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize (Joel Coen).
John Getz plays Ray, Abby’s “other man”.
Frances McDormand plays Abby, Julian’s dissatisfied wife.
Dan Hedaya plays Julian Marty, Abby’s vengeful husband.
M. Emmet Walsh plays Loren Visser (PI) and Narrator.
Loren Visser: The world is full o' complainers. An' the fact is, nothin' comes with a guarantee. Now I don't care if you're the pope of Rome, President of the United States or Man of the Year; somethin' can all go wrong. Now go on ahead, y'know, complain, tell your problems to your neighbor, ask for help, 'n watch him fly. Now, in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else... that's the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas, an' down here... you're on your own.
Julian Marty: You know, in Greece, they would cut off the head of the messenger that would bring the bad news... Don’t come around here any more. If I need you, I’ll know what rock to turn over.
Julian: Come on this property again and I’ll be forced to shoot you. Fair notice.
Ray: What did he say?
Abby: Nothin’. He’s like you. He don’t say much.
Julian: Trust each other, for richer or poorer.
Vesser: Don’t say that, your marriages don’t turn out so hot.
Abby: What happened?
Ray: Cleaned it all up. But what’s important now is that we don’t go around acting half-caught... Never point a gun at a man unless you intend to kill him. And when you shoot him, make sure he’s dead or else he’ll get up and try to kill you.