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Blood Simple (Director's Cut) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 18 September 2001

Blood Simple (Director's Cut)

Universal Studios Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams, M. Emmet Walsh
release year: 1983
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

The title of "Blood Simple" refers to what can happen when a murderer is so stunned and appalled by his/her own crime that mental blankness results. This shrewd, bleakly funny 1983 film noir marked the feature directing debut of Joel Coen, who wrote the screenplay with his brother and the film’s producer, Ethan Coen. It is justly acclaimed as a small, contained masterpiece of the low-budget murder genre and has been brought to DVD with a beautifully clean print and a soundtrack that preserves a solid, effective mix of dialogue, music and ambient sound.

Here’s the set-up: Small-town Texas bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) believes his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him, so he hires private eye Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow her around. In fact, Abby starts an affair with one of Marty’s bar men, Ray (John Getz). Marty pays the detective to kill the couple. Absolutely nothing goes as planned, and nobody concerned is a genius when it comes to eliminating evidence.

The performances are all right on the mark, with Walsh first among equals as a hearty, sleazy snake who is ready for and capable of anything, yet still capable of his own form of blood simplicity. Hedaya as the dyspeptic Marty maintains an attitude of murderous rage combined with profound hurt, while McDormand and Getz exude tentative trust, vulnerability and wounded suspicion in effective proportions.

The dialogue is snappy and intelligent without calling attention to itself and the cinematography of Barry Sonnenfeld (who went on to become the director of "Men in Black," among other movies) is sharp, clear and energetic, with shots that barrel forward down the blacktop. There are some individual distinctive images, like moonlight shining on blood on a car seat in Chapter 10.

The print has been meticulously cleaned up for DVD – indeed, if the viewer goes to the main menu and selects "Play" (as opposed to just pressing the "Play" key on the remote), there’s a little video introduction from Forever Young Film Preservation. The DVD also figures a sort of Filmmaking 101-style audio commentary from Forever Young’s Kenneth Loring.

Audio is in Dolby Surround, mixed into the rears but with no directional effects. The sound mix is nice and punchy, with fine ambient effects. Chapter 2 has a toe-tapping blast of the Four Tops’ "Same Old Song," that shows up again later, integrated smoothly as part of the background (the onscreen source is a jukebox) with other ambient sounds and the dialogue track. It also appears full blast over the closing credits, with old-fashioned warmth of an LP. Chapter 3 has a loud electric crackle that causes us to jump before we realize it’s just a bug-zapping light, while a mournful piano theme sets an ongoing mood in Chapter 4. A synthesizer is used with spare, creepy effect in Chapters 6 and 10, which also marks the best use of the rears – the hint of ominous sound behind us creates real menace. Chapter 7 has a lifelike echo on a gunshot and a nicely subtle rumble from a ceiling fan that throbs quietly at the very edges of what our hearing can detect.

"Blood Simple" manages to be extremely straightforward and clear – there are only a handful of characters and locations – while still having plenty of surprising twists and moments of real fear. It is well worth watching, particularly in this DVD version, which has a transfer superior to many of those of films made a decade-and-a-half later.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Original Theatrical Aspect Ratio (not specified, enhanced for 16x9 TVs), Widescreen Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
special features: Audio Commentary by Kenneth Loring of Forever Films; Production Notes; Filmographies; Theatrical Trailer; Scene Selection; French and Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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