Written by Joel and Ethan; directed by Joel; produced by Ethan
When his young wife has an affair, bar owner Julian Marty hires someone to kill her and her lover. Things don’t go to plan. For anyone.
Seen before? Yes, on BBC2 in the 1990s. I think Alex Cox introduced it on Moviedrome. The DVD I watched for this review was, it seems, a 1998 director’s cut.
Best performance: M. Emmet Walsh is great as the private-eye-cum-hitman, Visser. He’s a yahoo in a yellow suit who has a Texas drawl, a laconic style and a big hat.
Coen regulars (running total of appearances): As well as Walsh (1), Frances McDormand (1) is in this playing Marty’s wife, Abby. Holly Hunter (1) has a small uncredited voice-only part.
Best bit: The scene of Visser breaking into Ray’s house is so creepy and tense, I realised I was holding my breath while watching it.
Review: I loved seeing this again. It’s a cracking film in its own right – deliciously neo-noir, with a dark sense of macabre humour – but also works really well to get you in the off-kilter mindset of the Coens. It’s slow, but tremendously moody. Music is used really well to create atmosphere – both Carter Burwell’s somber score and some smartly chosen source songs. The camerawork is incredibly inventive at times. There are some funny flashes of eccentricity, such as the Four Tops-loving barman. And in the middle of the film there’s a brilliant 19-minute period without any real dialogue – just some distant ‘voices off’ and radio babble – which is as tense and gripping as anything. It’s a deliberately old-school story (love, betrayal, murder – all that jazz) yet never feels like cliché because of the regular twists the plot gives us. On the downside, the de facto lead, played by John Getz, doesn’t really make much of an impression. I couldn’t help wondering what a Tim Robbins or George Clooney would have done in this role. Something more interesting, that’s for sure. Also, Abby’s motives are deliberately kept vague, which leaves a bit of a gap in her character – a noir-ish flourish maybe, but it felt unsatisfying. On the whole, though, this is terrific stuff.
Nine shovels out of 10.