Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blood Simple Blu-ray Review

From the celebrated film-making team of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (Fargo, Raising Arizona), comes this visually stunning tale of a double-cross—and murder—in a small town. When the owner of a backwoods bar hires a man to kill his cheating wife and her boyfriend, he opens a door into the criminal world that he’ll never be able to shut. Blood Simplemarked the debut of the Coen Brothers and also represented the big break for Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, and it gave M. Emmet Walsh the biggest role of his career.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

I’m a fan of the Coen brothers’ films especially The Hudsucker Proxy and my favorite of theirs The Big Lebowski, which I recently reviewed here.  I fully expected to like Blood Simple as I had heard good things about it and because of my appreciation of their other work but this one didn’t strike my fancy like the others did.   One of the recurring themes in a Coen Brothers movie is the idea of a bunch of dumb people trying to extricate themselves from a mess they put themselves in.  From Raising Arizona to O Brother Where Art Thou, and even the recent Burn After Reading, all have a similar thematic focus even though the movies are in wildly different genres.

In Blood Simple, a hot-tempered bar owner named Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) believes his wife is cheating on him and hires a low rent private detective named Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow her.  Visser not only proves that Marty’s wife Abbie (Frances McDormand) is sleeping with one of Marty’s bartenders named Ray (John Getz), but he also takes pictures of them both despite not being told to.  When Visser returns with the pictures, Marty is understandably angry and wants revenge.  When Ray arrives to work the next day and quits, he is threatened by Marty and told he would not be receiving the pay that he was owed.

Marty’s anger and jealously get the better of him and he meets with Visser again to hire him to murder Abbie and Ray.  They work out the terms of their deal and arrange for Marty to be conveniently away fishing when the deed was to be done.  Visser sneaks into the house while Abbie and Ray are sleeping and he steals Abbie’s gun that had been a present to her from Marty.  We see Visser sneak up on the couple and he later tells Marty that the job was complete and even shows some pictures of the couple who appear to have been shot several times.  The betrayals begin right after Marty and Visser agree that they need to trust each other when they both take precautions to safeguard themselves against their conspirator.

I don’t want to give any more of the movie away since the constant backstabbing and betrayals are the whole point of the movie.  I will say that I spent a good portion of the movie shaking my head at the stupidity of these characters.  Leaving fingerprints, used cigarettes (with their DNA on it) at the scene of a crime, not making sure that someone you thought you killed was actually dead, or leaving a lighter with your name inscribed on it next to a dead person really just annoys me.  Every one of these characters is incredibly stupid and it was hard to root for any of them.  I didn’t really care for the movie until the last thirty minutes or so when the Coen brothers well known dark humor became evident.  When the film moves from slow paced drama to a dark thriller, the ending is basically a straight rip off of Wait Until Dark, but it’s still very effective and well done.

Video (3 out of 5 stars)

The film’s 1080p (1.85:1) transfer looks pretty good but it’s low budget roots keep it from being as good as it could have been.  The cinematography by future director Barry Sonnenfeld does an admirable job of capturing the grittiness of this seedy Texas town and it’s inhabitants.  Colors which are rare, are faithfully reproduced especially in the bar with all of it’s neon signs that look great.  Black levels are mostly good but the transfer also suffers from noise during the night scenes.  There are also some specks that pop up now and again and be prepared for some heavy grain too.  Flesh tones are natural and consistent  throughout the movie.  Despite its shortcoming, this still looks pretty good for a low budget film and there is a lot more detail evident than in the previous DVD release.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars)

Blood Simple’s DTS-HD 2.0 mix is acceptable but nothing fantastic.  This track primarily uses the front channels but there is some low level activity on the other channels occasionally.  Frequent Coen brothers collaborator Carter Burwell supplied the music for the film and it is mixed well along with the dialogue and the sound effects.  The dialogue is clear and easy to understand which is important for a Coen brother movie.  All in all, a decent mix but nothing great.

Special Features (2 out of 5 stars)

This is a pretty bare bones affair as only the introduction by Mortimer Young about the film’s “restoration” and a joke commentary track are supplied.
  • Introduction by Mortimer Young of Forever Fims – A joke intro concerning the film’s supposed restoration by Forever Young Films.
  • Audio Commentary track with Mr. Kenneth Loring - A tongue-in-cheek track with an “expert” who has a lot of film knowledge to share but unfortunately he doesn’t know how it’s all applied.  He routinely gives out inaccurate information on how a scene was shot while using correct film terms and processes that have no bearing on the scene whatsoever.  It’s pretty funny and subversive and I wonder how many people actually believe it.  In a way though, it’s a shame that the Coens and Sonnenfeld didn’t really do a real track as I’m sure it would have been interesting.
  • Theatrical trailer

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars)

The cast are all good in their roles especially Hedaya and Walsh who bring low life scum to an all new low.  This is by far the biggest role in Walsh’s career and he does all he can with it.  Full of nervous ticks and sweaty menace, his character is obviously unhinged in many ways.  The Coens themselves are also stars too in their own fashion and we see the beginnings of their style  showcased here in their first film.  There were several shots that I loved and were pure Coen brothers, such as a long shot that swooped along the top of a bar only to slow down to go over a drunk patron and later another shot with a close up of a shovel as it’s dragged along the road on its way to finish someone off.  There’s a lot of good stuff here but it took too long to get there but when it finally does it’s almost worth the long wait.
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