RogerBW's Blog

Blood Simple 27 November 2021

1984 drama/black comedy, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, John Getz, Frances McDormand: IMDb / allmovie. Abby was just planning to leave her husband, but then it all got complicated.

So this is neo-noir. To me one of the most important things about noir film is the hero, the man "who is not himself mean"; and that man is not here. Nobody here is a good guy, though some are better than others.

They're also blitheringly incompetent, and clearly not psychologically prepared for the practical business of committing and clearing up after a murder. (Gloves, people! DNA's not a huge thing in 1984, but fingerprints most certainly are.) Each of them does things that seem, in the moment, like the right or at any rate the least-bad thing to do; but the viewer has seen everything that's going on, not just the limited amount that any one character is aware of.

The cast is solid; McDormand (Abby), in her first screen role, doesn't have the thorough collectedness that she'd develop later, but it wouldn't be right for this part. Dan Hedaya (Marty) is just perfect as the guy who's sleazy but maybe not actively evil, at least until he's provoked into it. (The first role I'd see him in would be 1985's Commando.) And M. Emmet Walsh starts off as a Luciferian figure of temptation, nipping and pecking and working Marty round to the point that, sure, he'll hand over a lot of money to have his departing wife and her lover murdered, because sure, that's going to end well for him… And John Getz (Ray) is a bit lost; his reaction to learning (as he thinks) that his girlfriend is a murderer is to clean up her mess, which is fair enough, but that and what comes afterwards push him into an odd mental place such that he starts to scare Abby…

Yes, it's clear that two particularly compelling images were the origin of the whole thing, and the script is clearly set up to make those images happen at the climax of the film; but this is a story told in straightforward order that doesn't need chronological tricks or unreliable narrators to remain tense.

While this is yet another Bechdel test failure (I don't believe the two female characters even meet) it's almost accidentally feminist: yeah, big strong men say they'll look after the woman, but in the end she's going to have to take care of herself. Abby's perhaps not a Final Girl in the classical mould, but she certainly keeps her head when all about her are losing theirs and blaming it on her.

I normally don't enjoy films without something like a hero… but this one works for me.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

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