Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blood Simple (1985)

A splatter-movie art movie. The director, Joel Coen, wrote the screenplay with his brother Ethan, who was the producer; they made the film independently, but it's a Hollywood by-product. A Texas roadhouse owner (Dan Hedaya) wants to have his young wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover (John Getz) murdered; he hires a killer, a good-ol'-boy private detective (M. Emmet Walsh) who takes his money and double-crosses him. The one real novelty in the conception is that the audience has a God's-eye view of who is doing what to whom, while the characters have a blinkered view and, misinterpreting what they see, sometimes take totally inexpedient actions. Joel Coen doesn't know what to do with the actors (they give their words too much deliberation and weight), but he knows how to place the characters and the props in the film frame in a way that makes the audience feel knowing and in on the joke. His style is deadpan and klutzy, and he uses the klutziness as his trump card. It's how he gets his laughs—the audience enjoys not having to take things seriously. The film provides a visually sophisticated form of gross-out humor; the material is thin, though, and there isn't enough suspense until about the last ten minutes, when the action is so grisly that it has a kick. M. Emmet Walsh is the only colorful performer; he lays on the loathsomeness, but he gives it a little twirl—a sportiness. The grimy, lurid cinematography is by Barry Sonnenfeld. With Samm-Art Williams. (Pauline Kael)

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