This, the first feature of Minnesota-based independent filmmaker Joel Coen (who co-wrote the script with his producer, and brother, Ethan), has something of the old B-movie spirit at its most lofty: that groaning desire to find out how much can be achieved on how little, how near to Francis Ford Coppola one can come on Roger Corman wherewithal. Coppola is not a random point of reference. The movie is full of his sort of nervous cut-aways to unimportant details, and of his sort of extravagant tracking shots to nowhere: behind a pair of Converse tennies, or behind the four paws of a German Shepherd, or — the instance that best reveals the level of stylistic seriousness — along a bar top toward a slumped-over drunk, then over the head of the latter in a neat little hop, then onward along the bar. There are two or three movies' worth of direction here, even if not one movie worth directing. The whole thing, of course, can hope to be exonerated on the grounds that it is a pastiche, and is viewable as either an "appreciation" or a "send-up" (according to taste) of the hard-boiled thrillers of the Forties. Second-handedness creates a very flexible alibi. John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh. (1984) — Duncan Shepherd
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