Blood Simple
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Blood Simple

Criterion Director's Cut

There is a term invented by one of the best writers ever to create a gritty crime novel, Dashiell Hammett that aptly fits many of the characters in his stories; blood simple. Hammett coined it to describe a condition where prolonged exposure to violence reduces a person’s world view seeing no other solution that the use of excessive violence for any situation. The etiology of the condition when expanded to a violence response to any protracted period of unreasonable stressors. It comes down to a plot motivation that I have always considered a personal favorite; the reasonable man is responding to the most unreasonable of circumstances. There is currently a remake of one of the best cinematic examples of this mental state; ‘Straw Dogs,' which makes this the ideal time to consider other films employing this motivation. One of the most obvious is a movie from 1984 aptly titled, ‘Blood Simple.' It is one of the most well-crafted examples of this sort of film as well as a representative how to properly craft a movie of this type. It was only a matter of time before it included in the Criterion Collection. There were some comments about this edition being poorly re-edited. The mandate of Criterion to present the selected film as originally intended by the filmmaker. Ther are instances extraneous influences affect the movie’s theatrical release. With the advent of digital media, it became feasible for a filmmaker to apply artistic choices originally intended. George Lucas has taken this concept to ludicrous levels. Frequently those changes, originally intended, made for a better film. When the initial ‘official’ release reemerges can result in the observed bad cuts.

This movie is excellent; a crime thriller hot on the heels of genre-defining movies like ‘The Unusual Suspects,' and that is making quite a statement. Several years after the theatrical release there was a DVD edition of the director’s cut which has been hailed as one of the top thrillers by the exalted American Film Institute as well as earning a place on Bravo’s top scary movies. What brings this film to the forefront of attention is the new high definition release from MGM. There was a previous DVD of the director’s cut, but now you can enjoy a taut thriller in Blu-ray. If this film is not already on your shelves, use this opportunity to add a required movie for any serious film buff. In fact, even if you have that now discontinued DVD this Blu-ray release is worth the investment. The greater contrast and resolution affords a new dimension to the film creating a dark and sinister mood even better than before. ‘Blood Simple’ delivers and will continue to do so even with repeated viewings. While there are many twists and unexpected turns that will captivate your attention the first time you watch it it is impossible not to appreciate just how made that it holds up even when you have seen it many times before. This alone allows the movie to transcend the genre it helped to define placing it squarely on any list of top films.

Texas bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) is a suspicious man by nature; a personality trait greatly exacerbated when he feels betrayed. As such when he comes to have serious doubts about the fidelity of his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand) the most civilized solution of divorce is not high on his list of potential reactions. Certain that she is carrying on an affair with his bartender, Ray (John Getz) Marty, consigned to the role of cuckold husband is bent on obtaining concert proof before taking action. To this end, he engages the services of private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow them to the motel they use in their affair and photographically documents their assignation so that he can call them to inform them their clandestine affair is out in the open. The next day Marty and Ray encounter each other at the bar and Ray, as expected, quits his job. Marty plans a fishing trip out of town to establish an alibi, necessary after hiring Visser to kill the lovers for a fee of $10,000. The double cross begins when Visser tries to convince Marty the deed he held up his end of the deal accomplishing the contracted murder.. With some photos plotting to kill Marty with Abby’s gun framing here and permitting him to make off with the cash. The plan comes apart when Marty survives only to be buried alive. The story continues beautifully with plots with plots and nefarious plans that backfire without warning.

This film is a turning point for the innovative people behind the camera. The writers and directors for this groundbreaking film are the Cohen brothers, Ethan and Joel. They are widely and justifiably hailed as some of the most creative and sought-after filmmakers on the scene today. Much of what have become their trademarks had its start in this their freshman opus. They are known for infusing a dark sense of humor into incredibly complex drama providing a pacing that begins to pull the audience in from the first frame not abating until the final credits roll past. Examples of this technique have resulted in Academy Award wins for ‘Fargo’ and ‘No Country for Old Men.' Not only has their distinctive directorial style garnered them many awards and nominations they are also highly lauded for their work as writers, producers, and editors. A Cohen Brothers film ensures the audiences excellence and this film. ‘Blood Simple’ is where it all began. This film did more than kick starts the illustrious career of the Cohen Brothers; their Directory of photography began an extremely successful career as a director after this movie, ‘Barry Sonnenfeld.' After bringing his genius as cinematographer to bear for a couple of movies directed by Rob Reiner, ‘Misery’ and ‘When Harry Met Sally’ Sonnenfeld’ would sit in the big chair for ‘Get Shorty’ and the popular ‘Men in Black’ franchise.

This film is gripping, able to quickly grab hold of the audience not letting go until the last credit has rolled. The acting is taut, the script remarkably right and the photography makes you feel you are in the middle of your favorite gritty detective story. Now that the movie is part of the Criterion Collection there is no excuse not to have this as part of your collection. Considering the issues mentioned above concerning the two, distinctive cuts of the film, I do highly recommend obtaining both. It presents a fantastic opportunity to contrast both versions gaining insight into the intimate details involved in the artistic side cinematic expression. When you take into account, the plethora of additional material Criterion always includes the experience is close to a course in film school.

bulletNew, restored 4K digital transfer, approved by cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
bulletNew conversation between Sonnenfeld and the Coens about the film’s look, featuring Telestrator video illustrations
bulletNew conversation between author Dave Eggers and the Coens about the film’s production, from inception to release
bulletNew interviews with composer Carter Burwell, sound mixer Skip Lievsay, and actors Frances McDormand and M. Emmet Walsh
bulletPLUS: An essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel Rich

Posted 08/29/11        09/18/2016

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