A shady Texas detective (M. Emmet Walsh), on the trail of an adulterous couple, is smarter than everybody else in the movie but not luckier, as he realizes when his hand gets stuck on a window ledge — with a knife through it (87-minute mark). Who could tell from this debut feature that Joel (born 1954, went to NYU film school) and brother Ethan (1957, Princeton) would become the most distinctive and unpredictable American filmmakers of their time? Everybody who saw it.
Blood Simple has the division of labor that has always applied: Joel writes and directs (with Ethan’s help), Ethan writes and produces (with Joel’s help), and both edit under the joint pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. Carter Burwell provides the plangent score, as he has for all their films. Blood Simple already has the identifiable, satisfying Coen fingerprints: Greedy losers run into the brick wall of fate in this smart update of a James M. Cain thriller. There are visual surprises aplenty; the camera knows exactly where it wants to go, but you don’t. Lending the film a measure of audience identification is the cheating wife played by Frances McDormand. She married Joel the year Blood Simple came out, and has appeared in four more Coen movies.
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