It's a sad commentary on a dismal summer movie season that the best news comes in the form of a re-edited director's cut. "Blood Simple," the feature debut of the Coen Brothers, proves to be just as gripping and rewarding as when it first introduced filmgoers to the Coens' wickedly funny world view in 1985.
A few minutes have been snipped from the original and some music cues added, but if it's been 15 years, you won't notice much difference. What's most striking about this re-issue is how fresh it still feels, the crackling intelligence that propels its murderous action, the understated grace with which its psychological arabesques are executed, and the fine acting that makes it play so well.
The story - about a jealous husband (Dan Hedaya), a frightened wife (Frances McDormand), her lover (John Getz) and the hit man (M. Emmet Walsh) who knows them all too well - is straight out of Dashiell Hammett, whose pulp murder mysteries inspired the title. ("Blood simple" refers to the heebie-jeebies experienced by a murderer after he commits his crimes.) But as familiar as the plot elements are, the Coens give them a twisted charm all their own. (Joel directs, Ethan writes, both edit.) Grisly, stylish and often weirdly funny, "Blood Simple" is a reminder of how rarely an original artistic sensibility is announced to the world and how much better movies are when that sensibility is allowed to keep going its own way.
Starring Frances McDormand, John Getz, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh
Directed by Joel Coen
Released by USA Films
Running time 97 minutes
Rated R (violence and language)
Sun score: ***