Blood Simple

Have the Coen brothers infected our cinema?

IT’S SHORTER, the ending’s the same, and there’s a new introduction. The fake Masterpiece Theater-like intro is amusing enough (mentioning “Ultra-Ultra-Sound”), but in the Coen brothers’ usual nudging-each-other kind of way. Otherwise, 16 years after Blood Simple‘s auspicious release, four years after their Oscar for Fargo, the boys are essentially unchanged, and so is their debut picture. Some sequences have been tightened; no extra footage has been added; enhanced sound lends off-camera suspense.


directed by Joel Coen

with John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh

runs July 14-27 at Egyptian

Blood remains one of the best indie films of the ’80s for its wickedly funny take on infidelity, murder, misplaced trust, and mutual suspicion (to say nothing of the knife-impaled hand). So let’s ask not how Blood Simple has changed, but how it has changed the way other films are made and seen.

Although they came before Soderbergh and Tarantino, the Coens haven’t really connected with the public in the same way (although they’re beloved in Cannes). The rap against them is that they’re too cold, too mean, that their characters are too unlikable. In other words, they value plot construction and execution over realistic characterization—which can be off-putting to audiences. True enough: Parts of Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy are simply grating to sit through. Fargo remains the Coens’ best work because sheriff Marge’s moral indignation is allowed to shine through her thick Minnesota accent. (And who knows what to expect of their new fall film starring George Clooney?)

Ultimately, the brothers’ influence lies less with fellow filmmakers than with the audience, in how we perceive the types and freaks who populate the movies. The Coens have helped condition us to laugh at the stupidity, misbehavior, and violence on screen. (Two words: wood chipper.) Though less expertly and intelligently made, the Scream series and other horror/ slasher flicks demonstrate the Coen legacy: It’s condescending, though liberating, not to empathize with characters when we’d rather be enjoying the story.