Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson.
Fargo is possibly my favourite Coen Brothers film, and probably the film I was looking forward to rewatching most. The excellent new TV show based on ‘Fargo’ (and also caused Fargo) had also whet my appetite, with its subtle nods and stylistic similarities to the film. Fargo begins with a tagline stating that everything the viewer is about to see is true (spoiler: it’s not), with character names changed to respect the victims. The Coen’s stated they did this so that people would be more willing to suspend disbelief at the unbelievable story that is about to unfold, and it is unbelievable. The reason the script is so great, even knowing the story is not true, is all to do with the skilful way it unfolds. Like ‘Blood Simple’, ‘Fargo’ is another film that unfolds organically and every character’s action and reaction makes sense within the context of what’s happened to lead them to this place, no matter how unbelievable.
It’s not just the great script (which won the screenplay Academy award) that is so terrific about, ‘Fargo’, it’s pretty much everything. The film begins with a drive through the snow, which succeeds in both creating a foreboding atmosphere but also showcasing the wintry setting of the area this story will take place in. The opening scene in the bar is excellent, setting out the premise clearly and introducing three of the main characters (incidentally has any other actor had as many memorable opening scenes as Steve Buscemi? Off the top of my head, Reservoir Dogs, Fargo and Desperado all feature very memorable openings and Buscemi is a big part of all 3). Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is deep in debt, and he has a plan to solve all his problems. The only catch is that it involves two criminals (Buscemi, Peter Stormare) kidnapping his wife, and then asking for a ransom which Lundegaard will get his rich father in law to pay. They’ll split the cash 50:50 – simple?
I’ll say no more about how the plot unfolds except that it’s a masterful example of how a seemingly simple premise can spiral out of control causing devastation at every turn. The performances are excellent all round, with Macy’s twitchy salesman constantly on edge as he wills his plan to come off, and Buscemi and Stormare’s criminals making a terrific double act. Jerry’s father in law (Harve Presnell) is also superb, and the subtext between Jerry and him speaks volumes for how the debt situation has unfolded for Jerry. Jerry’s a sad sack, but he remains fairly likable throughout, which is testament to the quality of the script, the direction and Macy’s performance. When he tells himself everything will work out, we want to believe him.
This is all said without mentioning the star of the show, who doesn’t even appear until the 30 minute mark (of a 90min film). Frances McDormand’s detective Marge Gunderson is a perfect contrast to the rest of the crazy and panic stricken characters in the film, and her easy-going Midwest demeanour is very endearing. We join her as she investigates three deaths on a highway, and her enquiries lead her to Lundegaard and towards discovering the full picture. McDormand won an Oscar for her performance, and it’s well deserved. You Betcha!
The final thing worth mentioning is regular collaborator Carter Burwell’s excellent score, which once again shows his talent for crafting diverse soundtracks. Fargo is one of the more memorable ones, and its central hook is vital to the overall experience of the film. Fargo is a terrific film, not just one of the Coen Brother’s best, but one of the best films of all time – a great example of all the elements coming together to create a perfect fusion and if you haven’t seen this film, I’d highly recommend taking the time to check it out.
Next up I’ll be reviewing The Big Lebowski, one of the Coen’s most memorable and quotable films. I’ll be back with that one next week.
Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell, Larry Brandenburg and John Carroll Lynch