Re-released on the big screen in Coen-approved 4K resolution, this shortened cut of the directing duo’s 1984 debut still holds up beautifully as a jet-black comedy and a potent homage to film noir. For the heathens and Coen virgins amongst you, the story follows a neglected wife (Frances McDormand, making her acting debut) who is having an affair with one of her jealous husband’s (Dan Hedaya) bar staff (John Getz). The cuckolded hubby takes matters into his own hands by hiring a detective, played by M. Emmet Walsh, who steals the show as a sleazebag PI whose murderous tendencies blend a little too seamlessly with his levels of giddy mirth. As is usually the case in the Coen’s winding narratives, the best-laid plans go awry, confusion ensues and blood gets spilt.
The joy in revisiting, or even discovering, the brothers’ first film 33 years after its original release is Joel and Ethan Coen’s early mastery of a cinematic rulebook they seemed to know off by heart: they lovingly tinkered with genre conventions like seasoned filmmakers; their storytelling and mise en scène was precision-tooled; and their handling of the bleakly humorous – which would become a trademark of an impressive career – was already harnessed. Above all, with Barry Sonnenfeld’s brazenly assured camerawork, this restored version is worth the trip to your local multiplex for the crisp sound design, which further ramps up the tension and reminds you how fantastic Carter Burwell’s piano-led score remains.
So, before you rush to see George Clooney ham-fistedly politicise an early script sketch for Fargo in the upcoming Suburbicon, and marvel as McDormand throws her hat in the Oscar ring once more in Martin McDonagh’s openly Coenesque Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, you could do a lot worse than to dawdle along to a cinema and remind yourself how first blood is properly drawn.
Blood Simple – The Director’s Cut | Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (US 1984), with Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh. Starts Oct 5.
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