by John Farr
John Farr’s salute to the Coen Brothers.
Blood Simple (1985)
Suspecting his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) of cheating on him, Texas bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) hires shlumpy, unscrupulous private dick Visser (C. Emmett Walsh) to murder Abby and her lover Ray (John Getz), one of Marty’s employees. But Visser decides to rig the job and double-cross Marty, leading to a devious turn of events that implicates the innocent lovers in murder.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Filmed on a shoestring budget by Joel Coen and his producer brother Ethan, this heart-pounding homage to 1940s film noir was instantly hailed as a classic of American indie cinema. Featuring Barry Sonnenfeld’s innovative camerawork and murky lighting, “Simple” not only tells a dark, disturbing tale of murder, passion, and back-stabbing meanness, it introduces the marvelously talented McDormand and features a brilliant performance by Walsh as a sleazy, audaciously amoral gumshoe. Inspired by the novels of James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, “Blood Simple” is a gutsy, dark-comic debut thriller by the directors of “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski”.
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Leo O’Bannion (Albert Finney) is a crime boss with a big problem: his girlfriend’s brother Bernie (John Turturro) has cheated the head of the rival Italian gang, who wants Bernie dead. Leo lets his love for Verna (Harden) interfere with his business sense, and resolves to protect Bernie, even if it means starting a war. This decision puts Leo’s trusted lieutenant Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) on the outs with his mentor, but Tom steadily works to put things right behind the scenes.
WHY I LOVE IT:
A sharp, innovative send-up of everything from “The Public Enemy” to “The Godfather,” Joel and Ethan Coen’s brilliant “Crossing” has enough surprising twists, gnarled plotlines, and double crosses to fill several noir movies. Byrne is excellent as Tom, a loyal, boozing mobster whose inveterate gambling and torrid affair with the boss’s girl (Harden, in her debut), eventually land him in hot water with Finney’s Leo. Coens fave Turturro also has a brilliant turn as the weaselly Bernie. Evocative, clever, and beautifully played, “Crossing” is an under-rated homage to the gangster movies perfected by Warners in the 1930s.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Super laid-back ’60s dropout Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) enjoys hanging loose and getting high with his two bowling pals, cranky Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and easygoing ex-surfer Donny (Steve Buscemi). But his groovy-loser L.A. lifestyle is about to undergo a massive makeover when some thugs looking for a millionaire named “Jeff Lebowski” bust into his Venice bungalow and drag him into a tangled kidnapping scheme.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Ace filmmaking team Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo”) took more than a few pages from Raymond Chandler’s seedy L.A. noir novels to create this absurdly comic caper masterpiece. Bridges is riotous as the unflappable aging hippie who finds himself embroiled in double and triple extortion plots-think Phillip Marlowe on a bag of weed-while superb sidekicks Goodman and Buscemi get to sling around a lot of ripe witticisms. Also great is John Turturro, playing a vulgar-mouthed champion bowler named Jesus, and Julianne Moore, fetching as an “erotic artist.” In typical Coen fashion, the camerawork is wildly offbeat, the dialogue sharp, and the performances goofy and intriguing. Don’t miss this kooky homage to the weird world of noir.