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Worth A Look: 17.19%
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Sucks: 15.63%

5 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Blood Simple
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by Jack Sommersby

"Looks Great, Less Filling"
1 stars

While one can hardly deny that the Coen brothers made a major critical score with this their first time out, it deserves contemplating that perhaps this is an example of the mere attempt at art mistakenly confused with the automatic achievement of it.

The solipsistically superfluous Blood Simple is certainly a visual feast for the eyes -- set in a mostly blue-collar Texas town mostly at night where the main hangout seems to be a country-western bar, the colorful neon signs are so garishly lurid they're like characters themselves, accentuating things to the point where anybody in the same frame with them has their exterior life emasculated and inner life pounded to bits. It's quite obviously a blatant stab at film noir, alright, yet there's a penalty to this miscalculation: excepting one character who's as giddily villainous as they come, the rest are deadweight and as interesting as last week's Lotto numbers. Suffice to say, director Joel Coen and his producer brother Ethan, both of whom wrote the patchy, pathetic script and are making their feature-film debuts, are aping past noirs without instilling enough in the way of pace and tension and ingenuity into their own concoction to stand out in any truly artistically-sound way. Yes, to deny that it's visually wonderful would be dishonest -- in fact, it's not just beautiful but stark-raving beautiful (full compliments are definitely due ace cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld) -- but that's really all there is to it, for the crime plot has no drive and the twists and turns don't snap together with the crackling precision that all good thrillers need. The film is just plain flabby in between the violence, which is a pretty clear-cut indicator of any filmmaker that they're more interested in sensationalism than coherence. The characters and dialogue take a backseat to all the visual hyperbole as if they were built-in nuisances that needed to be shoveled aside like dog poop on a sidewalk; and after a while even the stalwart lighting becomes numbing -- it's so entrenched in the film's core that hardly anything in the dramatization department can penetrate it, and as a result the film never really comes alive the way we hope. It's not just a case of style-over-substance but style-over-no-substance.

What there is of the paper-thin plot involves bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) hiring sleazy private eye Visser (M. Emmett Walsh) to see if wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him with employee Ray (John Getz). She is; and after Visser presents some incriminating bedroom photos of them, Marty has another assignment for the P.I.: kill the both of them. From here, double crosses abound along with a whole lot of blood dripping and sometimes spewing from assorted bodily holes (though these lack the agreeably ghoulish delight of a hospital employee slipping on a puddle of blood and fatally busting his head open in the otherwise-deplorable Halloween II) and an assumed dead body that refuses to remain dead (better worked out in Diabolique). Potentially tantalizing on a purely responsive level, to be sure, but the film is just too "busy" and fussed-over to allow much in the way of life force in, which is further compounded by the who-cares "heroes." McDormand doesn't do anything a thousand other actresses couldn't by rote, and Getz, who displayed a marvelous comedic slow burn in Emilio Estevez's Men at Work and was the sole redemptive grace in the childishly-grotesque second half of Cronenberg's The Fly, paints in broad strokes rather than bold ones. Hedaya, usually persuasive, overdoses on mannerisms, but the always-great Walsh exudes so much in the way of quintessential sleaze that you feel not even a butcher knife could cut through it. If only Walsh could eradicate the logic loopholes (like someone not wearing gloves to a murder, and someone stupidly going to their known residence instead of the secret loft their better-half recently rented), stilted dialogue (the characters seem to be talking to us rather than organically to one another) and mediocre music score (which steals more than a little bit from Howard Shore's in Videodrome). Then again, Blood Simple is so self-consciously in love with itself frame by frame that it's a fairly alienating experience where just about everything's both abstract and rigid all at the same time -- in essence, a ninety-nine-minute teaser trailer with an inviting look but constricting inside that squeezes almost all semblances of panache right out of the material. Rather than noir, it's noxious.

For really good neo-noir there's "After Dark, My Sweet", "The Grifters" and "The Hot Spot", all of which are on DVD awaiting your deserved attention.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1053&reviewer=327
originally posted: 08/15/09 13:42:03
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User Comments

3/26/18 Louise A film noir tour-de-force with a very atmospheric soundtrack. Superb! 5 stars
6/09/15 Anne now that's a movie! 4 stars
9/25/13 David Hollingsworth Wicked, smart, and one my favorite films. 5 stars
7/24/11 John boy Dated, some hammy acting, I would rather watch the tension in a rubber band 1 stars
3/19/11 brian If I'd seen it before all their other films I'd probably be more impressed. 3 stars
8/10/10 Chad Dillon Cooper All hail the Coen brothers. 5 stars
7/24/10 Justin Sommersby once again proves how big a douche he is. He never fails. 5 stars
4/22/10 John Smith Much too slow; but interesting. 7/10. 3 stars
9/29/09 Brian My favorite neo-noir - the intricacies of the plot are really marvelous. 5 stars
11/25/08 Leo T great film... much fun 4 stars
9/17/08 Stu A nice debut for the Coens, although nowhere near the greatness they would later achieve. 3 stars
4/17/06 matt Startling! An amazing thriller, Walsh is brilliant 5 stars
9/12/05 Indrid Cold Once again the Coens prove that they are the most ... overrated filmmakers in the biz. 3 stars
8/08/05 jeanne I'd switch teams for Frances McDormand. 5 stars
11/14/04 DM Jack Sommersby is wrong again. 5 stars
7/31/04 psychotic black dwarf No matter how good the film, naysayers will talk through the proverbial Khyber Pass. 5 stars
12/31/02 Jack Sommersby Overpraised, artsy, self-indulgent crap that's more manner than matter. 1 stars
12/20/02 PsiSeeker A good Texas noir thriller. Coen's Bros keep em comin! 4 stars
11/22/02 Charles Tatum My God, this was boring 3 stars
4/24/02 Dave MacDougall deadly good....the coen's best movie...... 5 stars
8/26/01 The Bomb 69 slow to develop, but you could see Coen brother's beginning to come around 3 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk These guys can't go wrong. This movie is fuckin stocked with suspense. 5 stars
7/23/01 Eggy Joe This film made me feel like I being watched, tidy up! 5 stars
6/06/01 missk there was nothing I liked about this movie 1 stars
3/07/01 jordan tiny shot of winking guy as he drove by made this movie for me. 5 stars
3/07/01 Jake Effective thriller but a bit too grim 4 stars
8/10/00 brian michener the coens' best, wickedly inventive and horrifying 5 stars
7/19/00 David Feltl Brilliant! 5 stars
7/06/00 Matthew Bartley Slow but still nice'n'sleazy 4 stars
12/18/99 Shaun I rewound the tape a dozen times just to watch that damn newspaper hit the screen door. 5 stars
12/04/99 Hargrove I hated this movie! I felt like I was holding my breath waiting for it to end. 1 stars
5/12/99 ras_jose@yahoo.com very stupid people doing vey stupid things,everyone gets what they deserve.its GREAT! 5 stars
10/09/98 Bluntman I'll never forget the drip at the very end. BRILLIANT! 5 stars
9/28/98 Marty in St.Louis Coens - Lebowski = 100% Fucking awesomefilms! 5 stars
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  02-Feb-1984 (R)



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