Blood Simple: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

August 30, 2016 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is having an affair, but he has no hard evidence to rest upon. So he hires a seedy private investigator, Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to trail her and see what happens. As it turns out, Marty was right in his suspicions and Abby is cheating on him, with one of Marty’s own employees, Ray (John Getz). When Marty learns of this and even sees photos of the incident, he is very upset and even insults Visser, out of jealousy and of course, sheer anger. Abby stays with Ray for a while and has a run in with Marty, but it ends up harmless in the end, apart from Marty’s vomiting in the front yard. As time passes, Marty becomes more and more enraged by the recent events, so pays another visit to Visser, but this time, he wants real action to be taken. He agrees to hand over ten thousand dollars in exchange for the deaths of Abby and Ray, which seems like a good idea to Visser. So Marty heads out of town for a few days, Visser drops in on Abby and Ray, and this is where things really begin to spiral out of control, to a place where nothing is certain and trust does not exist.

It took a while, but Criterion has finally released this and as fans of the Coen Brothers’ as Criterion is, the bar was set pretty high. This ultra dark thriller has such a simple story at first, but then unrolls into a complex web of chaos, it is a true writing masterwork, I think. A lot of movies have twists and turns, but Blood Simple has intricate ones and in truth, the real fun comes not from the twists, but how the richly woven characters deal with them. The characters are excellent and showcase the Coens’ writing skills, to be sure. Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh all turn in superb performances, especially Walsh when he delivers some stinging lines. One of the best examples of modern film noir, Blood Simple is well written, performed, filmed, and it even has some nice touches of black humor dabbled in. The film was a pleasure to revisit and earns a more than solid recommendation.

This might have been her feature film debut, but Oscar winner and Coen regular Frances McDormand performs like a seasoned veteran in Blood Simple. She is given a simple on the surface, but still unpredictable character to work with and she nails it, perhaps one of the finest turns in her career. I think this role would challenge most experienced actresses, but to think this was her first time out of the gate, that makes it all the more impressive. Her interaction with costars is excellent, especially the looks and subtle body language, very effective stuff. You can also see McDormand in such films as Fargo, Almost Famous, Darkman, Wonder Boys, Short Cuts, and Raising Arizona. The cast also includes Dan Hedaya (Joe Versus the Volcano, Dick), John Getz (Requiem for a Dream, Men at Work), and M. Emmet Walsh (The Jerk, Blade Runner).

Video: How’s it look?

Criterion has given this film a new 4K transfer and it shows. It shows with every frame. This film was shot with very limited resources and the visual design is on the dark side, but this transfer never misses a beat. While the limits of the production are evident at times, the image is able to remain quite clear, even in the darkest of scenes. I found detail to be a noticeable step up over the standard release, even if not at the eye popping levels we all love to see on this format. As I said, contrast is on the mark throughout and while colors are rather dull, that is the intent of the visual design. Yes, there are a few flaws here and there, but by and large this is the best-looking version of the film to date. What an amazing-looking film.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The previously-release Blu-ray featured a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 track, but Criterion has upped the ante with a new 5.1 mix. Even so, the film’s sound design is well replicated here. The focus is on dialogue and since vocals sound clear and clean, the mix performs well. Some of the limitations of the source do surface, but these issues are minor in scope. There is a little more presence than you might expect too, so overall this is a more than solid soundtrack.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Shooting Blood Simple – Joel and Ethan Coen tapped Barry Soonnenfeld to photograph their debut feature – which represented a first for the cinematographer as well, as he had never shot on 35mm before. In this selected-scene discussion, filmed in May 2016, the three sat down, with Telestrators in hand, to discuss and illustrate the film’s lighting and design and talk about some of the mistakes they felt they made along the way.
  • Conversation with Dave Eggers – The founder of McSweeney’s Publishing, sat down with Joel and Ethan Coen to discuss the directors’ debut. From its initial inspiration and their efforts to get its production off the ground through the complicated process of finding a distributor. The experience, as they reveal, remains one of the most exhilarating of their careers.
  • Frances McDormand – Actress Frances McDormand auditioned for the part on the recommendation of her friend Holly Hunter, and the part became her first feature role. In this interview, McDormand offers isights into the Coen brothers’ creative process and discusses the many ways the film changed her life, both personally and professionally.
  • M. Emmet Walsh – The Coen’s wrote the movie with M. Emmet Walsh in mind for the role of detective Loren Visser, after seeing his performance in 1978’s Straight Time. In this interview, Walsh looks back on his experiences with the first-time filmmakers, including his insistence that he be paid in cash.
  • Sound and Music – Composer Carter Burwell an segue editor Skip Lievsay began working with the Coen brothers on Blood Simple, and they’ve all continued to collaborate ever since. They reflect on their early work together, and discuss the Coen’s approach to music and sound design.
  • Trailers – Three in all. A fund-raising trailer, the original theatrical trailer and the rerelease trailer.

The Bottom Line

The Coen Brothers have legions of fans and they’ve done enough films that there’s bound to be one to suit your particular taste. Their debut was over three decades ago with this little movie and while it’s not for everyone, did set the stage for their future outings. Criterion, as per usual, has done an amazing job with the audio and video restoration and the addition of the new supplemental materials make this a no-brainer for any fan of the Coen’s.

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