Blood Simple (Joel & Ethan Coen / U.S., 1984):

The shoestring budget dictates regional starkness and low-rent motels, but no indie frugality for Joel and Ethan Coen, envisioning themselves already as honky-tonk Kubricks. The apprenticeship with Sam Raimi is acknowledged with a frenetic Evil Dead handheld zoom in a front yard row between Frances McDormand and hubby Dan Hedaya -- a vomit-capper is inevitable, but the title, cribbed from Dashiell Hammett, indicates another bodily fluid is to be preferred. A Texas noir, then, with McDormand and John Getz, her lover, captured in flagrante by the snapshots of the loathsome shamus (M. Emmet Walsh), whose duties for cuckold Hedaya extend to murder. "Nothin' comes with a guarantee," of course, so Hedaya is caught slumped on a chair, bullet wound oozing and leg propped on top of his desk, a ceiling fan the finishing touch. Boneheaded Getz drops by and promptly incriminates himself by mopping up the messy puddle of gore; the corpse crawls out of the car and feebly aims a pearl-handed .38 as dirt is shoveled into his grave. The characters are kept in the dark from each other's machinations, but the filmmakers see all -- Lang circa Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, perhaps, but the Coens remain fastidiously indifferent to the plight of their creations, the better to concentrate on the dazzle of their doom. Why single out the forward-track that jumps over a barfly fallen into his own ashtray, when there are so many precocious samples to choose from? The camera, kept waist-level, travels with Samm-Art Williams through the saloon crowd, followed by a close-up of his feet doing a brisk skip as Motown kicks in from the jukebox; later on, as McDormand and Getz find their relationship fraying from suspicion and fear, the shot freezes into tableau and is readily shattered by the smack of a newspaper hitting the glass pane. Only Walsh's sheer love for caricature entails a bit of gutty autonomy from the suffocating snarkiness, and the Coens wisely zero in on this mangy virtuoso for the stunning conclusion -- a bathroom surveyed from above, a ground-level POV as a droplet forms under the sink, and, in between, a close-up, out of Florey, Bu˝uel and Stone, of a hand pinned down by a knife.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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