The good people at The Criterion Collection continue their commitment to bringing out movies to home video in the best possible editions. Since introducing the 4K UHD blu-ray disc to their lineup in 2021 they’ve not only released many new to the collection titles in the format, but revisited films they had released before to bring out again in the ultra-high-definition format. They’ve done this again with a new 4K edition of their 2016 release of the debut from The Coen Brothers, 1984’s “Blood Simple.”
“Blood Simple” is one of the most stunning debut films I’ve ever seen. Set in Texas the film is a darkly comedic Neo-noir, in many ways the bleakest comedy of errors one can think of filtered through the classic trappings of Noir, updating them for contemporary audiences. Set in a Texas town, a sketchy bar owner thinks his wife is having an affair and hires a most dubious private detective to follow her and find out.
It doesn’t help that the affair is going on with one of his employees at the bar, who he promptly fires, then decides that isn’t enough. Turns out our private eye is more than willing to do anything if the price is right, regardless of where it falls in the law, and this kicks off our series of interesting events. What surprises me most about this movie, is just how damn assured it is for a first-time debut. We know what The Coen Brothers are capable of now, but this? This showed them ready to dive right in out of the gate and try to get it all out if they only had one shot.
This is the first time the Coen’s would work with Francis McDormand, making her feature film debut, she plays the sleazy owner’s wife at the center of it all. The great M. Emmet Walsh plays our sketchy private eye, in a role that was written for him. John Getz plays the lover and I kept trying to figure out why the bar owner looked so familiar to me. It’s the great character actor Dan Hedaya, who I know as the lawyer from “The Addams Family” directed by this film’s cinematographer, Barry Sonnenfeld.
That’s another striking element of “Blood Simple,” this amazing cinematography. The film has color but somehow makes it work to evoke the stark feel of a deep-shadowed noir. It’s a stunning-looking movie, particularly a sequence towards the end which just about put me out of my chair. But I don’t want to spoil the movie for you. This an amazing film, and one well worth seeing.
Criterion first released “Blood Simple” on blu-ray in 2016 from a then-new 4K restoration made from the original camera negative, this was supervised and approved by Barry Sonnenfeld, and Joel and Ethan Coen. I suspect this is the same source for the new Criterion 4K disc. I was sent the 2016 Blu-ray, which also comes with the new 4K release, so I can’t say how this restoration looks in 4K.
What I can tell you is that it must look amazing, as this is a fantastic-looking blu-ray. The film has the right amount of grain, and the color pallet comes across beautifully. It’s a stunning-looking movie, even on standard blu-ray. The audio mix is a 5.1 remix created by the film’s original sound mixer. It’s mostly muted in the surrounds. The film was originally released in Dolby Stereo, which used a monophonic surround channel. I suspect this mix just opens up the surround mix to add a little more directionality with stereo surrounds over mono. It sounds great.
Bonus features are, as usual with Criterion solid. They include a new feature with the Coens and Sonnenfeld talking about the film, a conversation with the Coens and author Dave Eggers, interviews with the cast and crew, and a selection of trailers for the movie. It’s a wonderful package and I’m sure the 4K upgrade is well-welcomed for fans of the film. “Blood Simple” is an amazing movie, tense, suspenseful, shot well, and a heck of a debut. Halfway into the film, I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack. It’s that good. This is another fine release from The Criterion Collection and it comes highly recommended. See you next week.