Crossed wires and hazy recollections make for the purposefully confused characters that mull their way around what should have been a simple topic shared between them. It’s the classic Coen formula, and it makes up much of the story found within their directorial debut, Blood Simple. As sharp as their other collected efforts, or at least a good portion of them, their inauguration to the world of film brings us a tightly woven story of double-crosses, lies, debauchery and private investigator. We shouldn’t have expected anything less from the Coen’s, but this smartly written, well-directed piece provides the perfect introduction to their craft and efforts on the screen.
With the direction aiming for that comfort spot between likeable characters in the seedy underbelly of life, Blood Simple hits the nail right on the head with surprising fashion. After discovering his employee is having an affair with his wife, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) hires a private investigator, Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to trace his wife and staff member. It’s all very well performed, Walsh in particular gives a tremendous supporting performance. Quite close to being the best performance he’s ever given, his turn as a sleazy private eye is, by all means, the peak of his career. He embodies the writing of the Coen’s work well, a natural that delivers some rather great lines of dialogue.
His work alongside Hedaya gives us an insight into the lack of trust found throughout all of the characters in Blood Simple. The solid performances from the whole cast make for wholly enjoyable moments. Frances McDormand, in particular, gives a brilliant performance here. Her leading role as Abby gives us a very entertaining character surrounded by the bleak worldbuilding the Coen’s have to provide. She never populates the darker moments of the film, she may be present for them or the subject of interest, but her actions never allow for her to devolve to the levels of Julian or Loren. It keeps a clean protagonist, someone the audience can actively root for, rather than a crazed villain or controversial anti-hero.
A final twenty minutes that boasts some of the best work the brothers have provided, Blood Simple is a formidable debut piece. It’s not their greatest or most memorable work, but it is rather surprising to see how well-formed Joel Coen’s direction is upon his very first outing as a director. Dark surroundings, ominous tones and unrelenting characters that are distanced from any form of morality, the film is a great drama that pools in some thriller elements to bring a formidable debut.