Imagine a time when Joel and Ethan Coen weren’t household names. The two have become something of Hollywood legends with films like No Country For Old Men and the superior remake of True Grit. But every legend has to have a beginning, and the story of the Coen Brothers goes back to 1984 and a quirky little film called Blood Simple. The film had only a limited release and pulled in a mere couple of million bucks in its initial release. Even the cast with the notable exception of M Emmett Walsh was pretty much unknown at the time. The movie came and went without very much fanfare. It would be about three years later with Raising Arizona that the Coen Brothers would finally arrive in our collective consciousness where they have continued to have a strong impact through the present day.
Blood Simple is not a great film by any standards. The pace is quite slow, and it fails to fully realize the film noir nature that it so strongly emulates. In truth, it deserves to be overshadowed by the many Coen Brothers films that have come since. That doesn’t mean it’s a particularly bad film either. MGM has released the bare-bones Blu-ray more for an eye toward the historical value that the movie offers. It was not directed by both of the brothers. In those days they still functioned less as a whole. Only Joel is credited with directing the film, but if you believe that then I have some prime swamp property here in Florida I’d love for you to take a look at. They collaborated on the script and the film is a wonderful peek at their developing style. Already many of the trademark Coen Brothers style points are clearly on display. It all started here from the intense close-ups of trivial objects to the odd angles and rather dark lighting. It’s all on display in a movie that no fan of the duo should not see at least once.
Julian Marty (Hedaya) own a bar, and his wife is cheating on him. His suspicions are confirmed when Loren Visser (Walsh), the private investigator he’s hired, starts showing off the glossy photographs he’s taken of Abby (McDormmand) and her lover Ray (Getz). The pictures are quite graphic, so there’s no mistake. To make matters worse, Ray is his bartender and trusted friend. So Marty hires Visser for one more job. He wants the couple dead. But it’s Marty who ends up dead. To say any more would be to ruin a rather complicated plot that depends on your expectations being shaken and a misunderstanding between the couple that causes things to go terribly wrong. To say that Blood Simple is a downer of a movie would be an understatement.
Blood Simple is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35-40 mbps. Even with the sweet bit rate you’re not looking at a terribly great high-definition image presentation. It’s not that the image looks bad. It’s very inconsistent. There are moments where the image looks quite good, but that’s usually not the case here. Print artifacts and sudden changes in grain are flaws that simply can’t be ignored here. Certainly, this was a low-budget independent film, and the brothers made excellent use of what they had for production values. It’s just not a solid release with only fair black levels, a big problem since all of this film pretty much occurs in seedy low light.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is there basically to service the dialog. This is actually a very quiet film with very little in the way of speaking or score. When the score does come through it actually sounds pretty good. The music has always been a bit of a highlight of this film, and the presentation is clean enough to appreciate that here.
There is a faux “masterpiece theatre” opening that Coen fans will understand. They’ve made no secret of what they think about “special editions” and “director cuts” and they make fun of that here.
All of the negative things you’ve heard about the film are true. The pacing is, at times, frustratingly slow. The plot and story are about as thin as the meat at your local deli. The characterizations are what make the film along with the rather stylish presentations, but let’s be frank. None of those things can save this film in the end. But there’s just something about watching true genius develop that is rewarding in itself. In retrospect you can see where all of those wonderful tricks and stylish presentations began. Hey, wouldn’t Rembrandt’s school scribblings be worth something today? What about audio of a ten-year old John Lennon singing in the bathtub? “It’s that simple.“