By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Love triangle turns deadly.
Julian (Dan Hedaya) is a jealous and controlling husband who suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him. He hires a sleazy private detective named Loren (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow her around only for Julian to ultimately learn, to his shock, that not only is she fooling around, but it is with Ray (John Getz) who is one of his employees. Filled with rage Julian then asks the detective if he’d be willing to kill both of them for a price. Loren says he will, but then fakes the murder simply so he can collect the cash, which then leads to a myriad of twists.
This marks the Coen brother’s feature film debut and I was surprised to learn that every major studio passed on it and it wasn’t released to theaters until it got a favorable response after being screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The film is filled with the directorial flair that we’ve become accustomed to in their movies. I particularly enjoyed the inventive camerawork with my favorite shot being a tracking one done down a bar top in which the camera somehow leaps over a drunk’s head. The opening shots showing the desolate, dry and heat soaked Texas landscape helps give the film a gritty flair and the brief, clip-like dialogue that seems more like sound bites is quite interesting and helps reveal more by what the characters don’t say than by what they do.
McDormand is terrific in her film debut and her angelic-looking blue eyes help make her character more appealing to the viewer while the rest of them come off as being pretty vile. I was also impressed with how her Texas accent here sounds just as effective as the Minnesota one that she did in Fargo.
Hedaya does well playing the type of part he’s become best known for and I’ll give him credit for allowing himself to be put into a hole and having dirt thrown on him, but when he gets shot it is clear that his eye lids are fluttering and chest moving up and down, which should’ve been equally obvious to his shooter as well.
The story is slick, but the character’s actions not so much. Both Julian and the detective sneak into Ray’s house, but park their cars, which have very distinctive features, right in front of the home in which any neighbor looking out their window could report seeing it later when speaking to the police. Ray’s actions are even dumber as he gets fingerprints all over the murder weapon and then foolishly carries a dead body into his car where it doesn’t take a genius to know that the victim’s blood will most likely seep all over his backseat cushions.
The story appears to take place in the summer as the daytime scenes show the characters sweating, but then at nighttime we see the character’s breath, which makes it seem more like a winter time setting. I also thought the viewer should’ve been shown how the detective was able to doctor the photos to make it look like Abby and Ray had been shot as this was well before the age of personal computers or photo cropping.
There is another scene near the end where Abby, in an effort to escape from her killer, climbs out of her bedroom window and into a neighboring room. However, there was no ledge for her to climb onto making it almost impossible for her to do what she did, which is why I think they didn’t even attempt to show it and was simply something that we are expected to ‘forgive’ in order to enjoy the rest of the movie.
Despite these minor flaws I still found it to be an inventive film and one of the better attempts at creating a modern-day film noir that should be considered the standard for all others that followed.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: October 12, 1984
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Joel Coen
Studio: Circle Films
Available: DVD, Blu-ray