Dark Crime Thriller Comedy On Max Debuts The Best Directors Ever

By Jacob VanGundy | Updated

The Coen Brothers have made a name for themselves as some of Hollywood’s best directors, and like many fans, I’m particularly fond of their crime dramas. While later films like Fargo and No Country for Old Men are more well-crafted, Joel and Ethan Coen’s raw talent is evident in their first movie, Blood Simple. With a plot full of backstabbing, a rural setting, and highly stylized violence, it’s easy to see it as a prototype for their later films. 

Blood Simple Launched The Coen Brothers

Released in 1984, Blood Simple is a low-budget, independently produced film that kickstarted the Coen Brothers’ careers. Starting life as a dummy trailer starring Bruce Campbell, who would not appear in the actual film, the movie would eventually be made on a $1.5 million budget. Shot on location in Texas, the film established Joel and Ethan Coen’s ability to capture the feel of rural America. 

First Collaboration With Frances McDormand

Blood Simple utilized a cast of established character actors and newcomers and began the brothers’ relationship with Frances McDormand, who would become their most frequent collaborator. The small main cast consisted of John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedeya, M. Emmet Walsh, and Samm-Art Williams. It was Frances McDormand’s first film, and she would go on to appear in eight more films directed by the Coens.

Neo-Noir Thriller

The plot of Blood Simple centers around an affair between Ray, played by Gaetz, and Abby, played by McDormand. Abby’s husband and Ray’s boss, Julian, hires a private investigator named Loren Visser, played by Walsh, to uncover their affair and then kill them. A series of increasingly violent double crosses result in almost every character’s death. 

Filled With Stunning Imagery

Despite its small budget, Blood Simple shows that the Coen Brothers were already capable of beautiful shot compositions and building tension through visual language in their debut film. The iconic scene of Julian being buried alive in a wide open field, illuminated only by the headlights of Ray’s car, is equal parts gorgeous and stark.

The real highlight of the movie is its final act, which features a cat-and-mouse confrontation between Abby and Visser, which is full of long, tense shots interrupted by moments of brutal violence. 

Rookie Mistakes

While the visual style of Blood Simple is a sign of things to come for the Coen Brothers, their screenplay isn’t as strong as much of their later work. One of the reasons I love Coen Brothers films is how memorable the characters are, but aside from Visser, the characters in their first film are a little flat. The pacing is off, dedicating too much time to spelling out the affair between Abby and Ray early on without adding to the emotional weight of the fallout. 

Streaming Now On Max


Blood Simple isn’t one of my favorite Coen Brothers movies, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. It’s a beautifully shot movie that tells an interesting, if flawed, crime story that brings a unique horror element to the brutal violence the Coens are known for. Blood Simple launched the careers of two master filmmakers and a great actress, and it’s available to stream on Max right now.