Dir. Joel Coen
(1984, R, 95 min)
★ ★ ★ ½

What’s most impressive about the Coen Brothers’ first feature, Blood Simple, is how straightforward its plotting is. It wasn’t until I tried to summarize it to my curious mother that I realized how elaborate it really is. Over the course of 95 minutes, the story unfolds, well, rather simply.

Consider when Ray (John Getz), the lover of a married woman (Frances McDormand), discovers a body. He begins by making assumptions that seem crystal clear at the time and sets about solving the problem. These scenes aren’t about moving the plot along. The Coens use them to create atmosphere and increase the tension. Over long anxiety-filled minutes he gets in deeper and deeper, until he’s finally in over his head.

I was surprised by how many early echoes of No Country for Old Men are contained in the film, from the opening shots and voice-over, which seem to be directly quoted by their later Oscar-winning effort, to the suspenseful use of slow, sinister footsteps and the way it gets more exciting the more patiently it lets its scenes unfold. Compare its climactic scene in an apartment to any of the great, leisurely scenes from No Country where Anton Chigurh stalks his prey.

M. Emmet Walsh has the film’s juiciest and most entertaining role, as the private investigator on whom the story hinges. He has a big, hearty, malevolent laugh the Coens use to punctuate their film. Sometimes you just have to laugh.