FARGO is an amazing true story of a small time crime gone wrong.
Think of the movie as a home spun and comical IN COLD BLOOD. It is told
in a highly stylistic fashion by the Coen brothers. Joel Coen is
listed as the writer and director while Ethan Coen is listed as the
writer and producer. Actually all of their films (BLOOD SIMPLE,
RAISING ARIZONA, MILLER'S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, and THE HUDSUCKER
PROXY) are totally collaborative works.
FARGO has all the characteristics of a farce, but actually we are
told that the story is done exactly as it occurred in the cold and
snowy Minnesota winter of 1987. The film starts with bright white
images on a snowy white background, and then the credits come on with
tiny black type with wide spacing which seems a metaphor for the
bleakness of the countryside. A dishonest car salesman, Jerry
Lundegaard (W. H. Macy who was so wonderful as the hard nosed principal
in MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS), has contracted with two small time crooks to
kidnap his wife so that his rich father-in-law, Wade Gustafson (Harve
Presnell), will pay a random that Jerry will then split with the bad
Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare)
are the incompetent but cold blooded kidnappers and killers. Carl
talks incessantly while Gaear rarely speaks and is more frightening.
Gaear has a constant gaze as if he has no morals or conscience. They
both are willing to kill anything that gets in their way even though
they only hope to get $20,000 each from the deal.
When a state trooper stops their car after they have kidnapped the
wife, Carl tells her, "Just keep it still back there lady or we're
going to have to, you know, shot you." The deadpan way he delivers his
lines is at once funny, moronic, and scary. The whole movie is a
seamless blend of comedy and tragedy. One minute the audience is
laughing out loud and the next it is gasping for breath. The closest
recent movie to it in effect is probably PULP FICTION. In FARGO the
dialog is not as well written, but the images are craft much stronger.
After the killers have murdered three people along a desolate
road, seven month and massively pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson
(Frances McDormand) is woken in the middle of the night so she can go
and investigate. Before she leaves, her husband insists he fix her a
good breakfast first and to him this means one "with eggs."
If this was the south, most of the people in the movie would be
called, good old boy types. Instead, everyone in Coens's movie says,
"Ya, Ya" and has thick Scandinavian accents. The Coens are from this
area so presumably this is authentic. After she investigates the
crime, she stops by and gets a paper bag of night crawlers for her
She sounds like a hick, which most people associate with
stupidity, but she is quite cleaver and brave, no matter how sweet and
hooky she is. On the other hand, She has a partner who has an IQ
firmly in double digits. Since his investigative skills are zip, she
keeps his spirits up with a little humor telling him, "Did you hear the
one about the guy who was too poor to get personalized plates so he
changed his name to J3L2404?" The camera and the audience love her. A
great character and an impressive piece of acting. Actually, all of
the actors from the nervous W. H. Macy to the cocky Harve Presnell to
diabolical Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are all excellent.
Many funny scenes are side plots that are not intended to go
anywhere. Characters show up and are never seen again. A good one is
of an old boy friend Marge runs into and decides to have a drink with
and who tries to put the moves on her. There is another simple one of
her pigging out at the local smorgasbord
If Roger Deakins does not get nominated for best cinematography,
then the Academy is asleep. The snowy images are so strong. One of
the best examples is a scene filmed from on high of Jerry walking
despondently across an empty parking lot filled with snow.
Most of all, this is a Coen movie, and the best movie they have
ever made. It brilliantly moves from comedy to poignancy to tragedy
and back constantly. The images, not just of the sets like the huge
lit up Paul Bunyan statue, but of the expressions on the actors' faces
are as strong as branding irons. The Coen's style is unlike that of
In a complex film the scene at the end give some hints as to what
it might have all meant. As Marge says, "There is more to life than a
little money." Later she says of the tragedies, "I just don't
understand it," which may be the ultimate reality about the
senselessness of it all.
FARGO only runs 1:38 thanks to fast pacing by editor Roderick
Jaynes. It is rated R for bad language, some sex and nudity, and lots
of blood. In one scene everyone in the theater went, "aaaaaaah", but
they cut just before the blood flew in that scene. In others, people
bleed a lot so they they have to hold something on the wound to stop
the blood. You may have to look away in some scenes, but even so I did
not find the violence excessive. This is a film suitable for teenagers
only if they are quite mature. I think the film is flawless,
brilliant, and certainly unique. I recommend this film strongly to you
and give it my rarely awarded top **** rating.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes