Fargo (1996)


Far as Fargo may be, it's film that feels like coming home...
Far as Fargo may be, it's film that feels like coming home...

Genre: Drama Crime Thriller

Starring: Frances McDormand (Raising ArizonaBurn After Reading), Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs • Living in Oblivion), William H. Macy (Magnolia“Shameless”)

Directed By: The Coen Brothers (Barton FinkThe Big Lebowski)

Overview: When a kidnapping turns bad in North Dakota, a very pregnant police officer seeks out the escaping murderers.

No Overview could properly come close to capturing the essence that is Fargo. It’s not nearly as naïvely quirky as the Coen BrothersThe Hudsucker Proxy. It’s not as stern as No Country for Old Men. It’s not pure buffoonery like Raising Arizona. The joy that is Fargo comes from having bits of all these things while still carving its own path in the Coens’ oeuvre. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the Coen Brothers’ best offerings, and definitive of their style.

We open – and remain – in a snow-buffeted landscape where two men (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) are unhappily waiting for their contact Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy). Jerry wants them to kidnap his wife and hold her hostage until Jerry’s rich father-in-law pays the ransom. The goons agree and begin their rampage while Jerry does what he can to keep his head above the overflowing debt and fraud he’s gotten himself into long ago. When the kidnapping and its aftermath ends in murder, the seven-months pregnant Sheriff Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is on the case to find the men leaving a trail of mayhem and chaos. You know me: I’m not much one for spoilers so hopefully that does enough to tease those of you who don’t know what this wonderful movie is about.

Off to a bad start...
Off to a bad start...

As ever, the Coen Brothers’ script is as tight and brilliant as it could be. The mood of that particular North Dakotan accent, the look of the tertiary characters all exuding a blankness as white as the snowscapes that are a prevalent cinematographic theme; it’s all wonderful entertainment. And the story, wrought with fraud, poorly-planned ploys and extreme consequences, sings with a wild tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat until you laugh along at the occasional sprinkle of the strange.

Some of the wonderful cherries that top Fargo include the characters of Marge’s husband (John Carroll Lynch) and Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis) - a stoic Indian reminiscent of Chief Bromden from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest - and the subplot that comes from Marge’s reacquainted old friend from high school, Mike (Steve Park).

With a hint of Raising Arizona's wackiness and The Big Lebowski's over-the-top characters, yet with a serious profound depth and occasional frightening edge that I loved in Barton Fink and Miller’s Crossing, Fargo blends sweet and sour in equal parts to make the perfect movie cocktail. The Coen Brothers show us a story that’s less predictable than standard Hollywood, while still being Crime-Thriller-fun enough for the laymen to sing its bloody-murder praises.

Fargo is fun and light. Fargo is serious and dark. Fargo is wacky and weird. And above all, Fargo works to leave you wanting more. The Coens’ sixth film, made between Hudsucker Proxy and The Big Lebowski, is not one to be missed.

 Oh Jerry...
Oh Jerry...

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 9 Plot: 9 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 88% (Not to be Fargotten)

Just before I settled in for an evening with Fargo, I let a like-minded friend in on it: Fargo and an extra-large dram of GlenDronach? Yes I do believe I will.

His answer was not a surprise: Damn fine combo.

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