Noir-vember Day Ten: Blood Simple (1984) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Noir-vember Day Ten: Blood Simple (1984)

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Joel and Ethan Coen shot out into the film scene like a bullet with their first feature film, Blood Simple. By mixing dark humor, sudden and brutal violence, a terrific script and stunning cinematography, the Coen’s put their stamp on the modern noir and blew the brains out of independent cinema. On top of this being the brother's first movie, it is also a film school in itself on how to make an effective modern day take on the noir. Below are the five things to learn from Blood Simple on how to effectively make a noir:

    1. Tell your story and get out. Blood Simple. is a movie that is barely over 90 minutes long. The movie starts, picks up steam and barrels through the finish line without ever slowing down. There are no side stories, no filler, no unnecessary characters and no art house naval gazing. The plot is a familiar trope in this genre: it is all about a cheating wife, a love-struck guy, a jealous husband and a plot to kill the lovers, but the fun and brilliance of the movie are the twists as the movie gets from point A to B. The movie is filled with double crosses, misunderstandings and mistakes that get the characters further into the quicksand of their surroundings. Yet, the movie never pads the story or adds any obstacles for the characters that would lengthen the movie. Although the dialogue is great, the film is not “talky” at all and we never have any of the villains monologuing their whole dastardly plot to the heroes. The movie does what it needs to do and then ends, which makes the ride even better because there is never a time for the audience to catch its breath once the film starts rolling. In later films, the Coens show that they can write as pretentious as the next art house darling, but this first film, whether it be from lack of budget or for some other reason, is a lean, mean movie and one of the main reasons it is great.



  1. Characters should create the plot, a plot should not create the characters. It is a very common occurrence in noir films that the characters in the film are thin at the best and stereotypes at the worst. Even some of the most beloved noirs have characters acting in a way that only occurs to further the plot. The characters in this film both do and do not fill the cliché genre roles of noir at the same time. We do have the man in over his head because of a woman, we have the larger than life henchman and we have the sleazy, jealous husband. At the same time, all the actions the characters take in the film come from a place where even the dumbest and most vile decisions seem reasonable given the circumstances they find themselves in. There is never a moment that a character does something makes little sense (like running up stairs in horror movies) other than to service the plot.

  2. Show, don’t tell. In the first 25 minutes of the film the movie shows you every thing you need to know about the film in the next few scenes. There is the gun, a PI’s love of photography, a lighter, the layout of particular rooms and, most importantly, the way the characters relate to each other and their surrounding. These interactions shape what happens in the film just as much as the following who has the gun or what happens to the pictures. Thankfully, due to the taut and streamlined script, we don’t have any characters having to spell out why they did what to whom. The main character and the villain never even have a scene together but in the end you know exactly why he is after her without needing the two characters to talk about it. The Coens are worshipped both for their visual eye as well as their great scripts and dialogue. Even though at first look it seems like Blood Simple only showcases their visual style, the simpleness of the script is expert screenwriting at its best.
  3. Style and substance can coexist. The first 3 topics covered all deal with the story side of Blood Simple, but the film is also a visual feast. The colors are washed out and add to the tone, the pacing is frantic and the camera shots highlight it. Although they use flashy shots in the film with interesting camera angles, fast close ups (their friend Sam Raimi is easily seen as an influence in some shots) and fun little tricks, the core of the film is still the script and the beautiful cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld. With Blood Simple, the Coens show that you can have fun with the movie and not go overboard to the point of hurting the film.

    Look! Lighting!

  4. Mixing genres can be very effective. The finale of the film is exquisite. Near the end, the film seemingly transforms from a noir/crime thriller to a slasher film. This change in tone could have derailed the whole movie but it is pulled off beautifully and makes the ending much more tense. Similar to what the Coens do in later films like Miller’s Crossing and No Country For Old Men, they construct a villain who is almost seen as an unstoppable force, like death in human form. In Blood Simple, the scary-as-hell villain is not named in the film and only as "Private Investigator" in the credits. This makes him a frightening foe because little to nothing is known about him. Like Anton in No Country, the PI is doing what he does in the movie not so much for the money but because he wants to. With all of this set up, when the PI (played perfectly by M. Emmett Walsh) goes from shady hit man for hire to all out ruthless and inescapable killer, it is not that big of a stretch. The main woman, Abby (a young Frances McDormand), does not know this man, does not understand why he is after her but knows that she has to run or be killed. Much like balancing the fine line between style and substance, changing tones drastically in a film could ruin the whole film but if you have faith in the film and have a strong script supporting it, a bold move like this can strengthen the film.

Blood Simple is a great film that can stand along side any other Coen Brothers’ film and any noir made in any decade. Thanks to sure handed direction, a unique film style, tightly constructed script and filmmakers who were willing to take chances, this film helped usher in the age of independent filmmaking. When most people hear noir, they might think Bogart and black and white, but I think Blood Simple.

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Posted by Ryan

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