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I've always thought Fargo would make a great Shakesperean play; you could alter the modern elements and still have created a buzz 400 years ago in suburban England. Indeed, the plot is similar to Hamlet's, in that they both have characters we root for who create zany plans than end up spinning wildly out of control into bloodshed. Many people seem to like Fargo for its humorous qualities, its characterization of the Minnesotan culture and Frances McDormand- not me. I love Fargo for its brilliant writing, its tragic musical score, its tragic plot, William H Macy, Harve Presnell and Steve Buscemi, its ignorance of political correctness (how many movies can you remember when the only two minority characters were both revealed to be creeps).I want to draw attention to an overlooked reason why the film works so well - how well the music suits the visuals in this movie. Each murder scene is scored superbly, and other audio clues really add to the effect (for instance, notice how when the police officer asks Carl Showalter "What's this?" in reference to the abductee, a disquieting guitar sound is immediately played that has an instantaneous psychological effect on how you interpret the scene). I have seen this film over, well, an embarrassing number of times and have committed its screenplay, from start to finish, by memory. Fargo is the ultimate Coen Brothers movie, a brilliant tragedy, and restores my faith in Roger Ebert as he places this movie in as his fourth favorite movie of the '90s.
"What'd this guy look like anyway?"
"Oh, he was a little guy, kinda funny lookin'."
"Uh-huh. In what way?"
"Just a general way."
In that interplay between a Brainerd, MN., police officer and a witness discussing a criminal investigation, you have one of your principal pieces of dialogue from what is considered by many to be Joel and Ethan Coen's finest film.
Of course you can draw comparisons to others they've made, such as Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, even Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski. But Fargo illustrates the Coen Brothers' takes on plot, art and drama more succinctly and emotionally than any of those others. Here you have a set of memorable, if not always likeable, characters in a plot that goes from clunky to chaotic in the most unspoiled manner, from Jerry Lundegaard's stilted conversation with Gaear and Carl in a bar in Fargo at the beginning of the movie - the only occasion in which the movie specifically shows you Fargo, N.D. - to Marge Gunderson's confrontation with Gaear and the wood-chipper.
Frances McDormand deservedly won an Oscar for playing a well-balanced, intelligent, pregnant police officer placing her own straightforward methodology on to an investigation of bizarre goings-on. And William H. Macy gives a true one-two punch playing a frenetically-charged, fearful and, in the end, inept used car salesman trying in the most remarkable manner to make money. The two best scenes in the movie are the two occasions in which Marge questions Jerry about the Brainerd murders and a car from his lot being involved -- I couldn't imagine an actress doing a better job of seriously but comically exclaiming, "He's fleeing the interview!"
Notable among the actors as well are Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare playing Carl and Gaear, the two hit men hired by Jerry to help him con his father-in-law out of money. There's comic brilliance watching Stormare silently grimace at Buscemi's violent but gregarious behavior, and Buscemi shines being able to play the most out-of-control of all the characters in the movie. Kristin Rudrüd also stands out playing Jean Lundegaard, Jerry's haplessly kidnapped wife.
If you can appreciate an intelligent look at not-always-so-intelligent life on this planet, you'll enjoy the little more than the hour and a half this movie has to show you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Boy, is this a good movie. In its bare bones it is a crime drama but
the Coen brothers constantly undercut the seriousness with a quirky
irony. The acting, the script, and the direction lift the movie light
years above most of the movies of its decade.
The performances, for instance, everyone speaks with what passes for an upper Midwestern accent, a very pronounced accent, let's say. So when characters are doing wicked things on screen, it's rather like watching people dressed in clown suits do nasty things. It's utterly impossible to take it very seriously -- only just seriously enough for us to feel sorry for the victims and to disapprove of the bad guys, but no more than that.
Everyone except the two killers are forced by their culture to speak and act cheerfully. They never swear either. "You're darn tootin'," they say. The casting couldn't be better, with Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, and Bill Macy outstanding.
The script is likewise splendidly done. It's full of scenes that seem peripheral except that they add to our understanding of the characters and often lead to later payoffs. Without taking the space to describe them, I will simply mention the scene in the restaurant between MacDormand and her Japanese friend from high school. Why is it in there at all? (My God, those hotel restaurants are depressingly ugly.) Well -- among other things, such as establishing the kind of milieu these folks consider Ritzy, it tells us quite a bit about how MacDormand handles attempts to violate her inherent good nature. When the Japanese guy tries to sit next to her she tells him firmly that she'd prefer it if he sat across the table so that she can see him more easily. When he breaks down in tears she whispers that it's all okay. She is polite, a little distant without being unfriendly, completely practical, and absolutely iron bound in her values. Nobody is going to take advantage of or discompose this hyper pregnant babe. Further, this scene is a set up for a later one. After MacDormand learns that the Japanese guy has told her a gaggle of lies, she wakes up to the fact that, yes, people can tell untruths -- and she returns to interview Macy a second time.
In another scene, when she's pressing one of the criminals during an interview, he excuses himself for a moment and she spots him taking off in his car. She exclaims, "Oh, for Pete's sake, he's FLEEIN' THE INTERVIEW." It's impossible to improve on a line like that, or on MacDormand's delivery of it.
The third element of the film that makes it superior is the direction. The pauses come at the right times. A woman is sitting on her couch watching a soap opera on TV. Through the glass door of her apartment she sees a man approach. He's wearing a black ski mask and carrying a crowbar. He walks up to her door and shades his eyes while trying to peer inside. Now in an ordinary action movie, by this time the woman would be screeching and speeding down the hallway. Not here. The victim sits there staring at the intruder as he fiddles at the door, half horrified and half curious. "Who is this guy? He's not the meter reader, is he?" Coen the director has an eye for the suggestive picturesque too. Bill Macy has asked his father-in-law for a large loan for some sure-fire business proposition, but Dad offers him only a finder's fee. We see Macy's deflated face as his disappointment sets in. Cut. Now we're looking at a white screen punctuated by four or five bare trees equidistant from one another, and there is a tiny car in the middle of the whiteness. Then Macy's tiny figure trudges into the bottom of the shot and we realize we're looking at a snow-filled parking lot with only one ordinary-sized car in the center of it.
Wintery weather plays an important part in the movie. People die in it, drive off the road because of it, stand shivering in it. Two freezing people are conversing on the street while one shovels snow. The shoveler stops, gazes up at the sky, and remarks that it "ought to be really cold tomorrow." Cars and ambulances tend to drive in and out of white outs during blizzards and blowing snow. MacDormand is driving her murdering prisoner through a blank white landscape in which nothing much is visible and she is mildly remonstrating with him, saying something like, "Why did you do it, for a little bit of money? It's a perfect day, and here you are." (A perfect day!) There are seven murders in this movie. Only three take place on screen. The others either take place off screen or else the director has the good sense to cut at the moment the gun fires or the ax blade lands.
"Fargo" is one of perhaps half a dozen movies from the 1990s that I would consider buying on DVD. It's an original and refreshingly adult picture. Don't miss it.
With all the sorry films these days it is good to see a movie as funny, wicked, dramatic, and utterly demented as "Fargo". It's one of those films that you just have to see. William H. Macy gives an Oscar-nominated performance as a car salesman who hires two thugs (one a know-it-all-know-nothing and the other a demented psychopath) to kidnap his wife so that he can keep half the ransom from her well-off father. Needless to say nothing goes right and Brainerd sheriff Frances McDormand (in an Oscar-winning role) comes in to save the day. I won't give anything away because the material is too good to tell those who haven't seen this inventive film. "Fargo" was ranked on the 100 Greatest Films list in 1996 and it was well-deserved. In this age of by-the-numbers film making, this film was a refreshing flashback to the risk-taking style that made the 1970s such a great decade for movies. 5 stars out of 5.
If you haven't seen this movie, do yourself a favour and see it. It is very well put together and the plot is constantly evolving into a deeper shade of creepiness. At times scary (not in the horror movie sense) and quite rich in dark humour, this is one of those movies that gives you a weird felling inside even an hour after its over. The music is quite appropriate and unlike Scarface, is timeless. The camera work is usually quite basic but whoever directed the photography had the enjoyable habit of giving us interestingly artistic segways between scenes. This is the first film so far that I've given a 10 out of 10. I was going to give it a 9, but I couldn't think of a reason to take any points from perfect.
Nobody seems to know that Fargo is first and foremost a beautiful and very simple love story about two ordinary rural small town American people and secondly a superbly acted crime murder mayhem movie, probably the best that has ever been filmed. Every character is genuine, believable, and Home, not Hollywood, spun. The suspense rolls in and out like a San Francisco fog. The side shows that are built in are amazing (sheriff's conversation at a bar with old acquaintance - stamp conversations - breakfast makings). The whole film is an American Shakesphere. I actually know frequent moviegoers who have not seen Fargo (and Sling Blade and Shine). I feel a special sorrow for them. Back to Fargo, every time I watch it I don't want it to ever end. I even sometimes find myself wishfully thinking I could move up there, it's a Lake Wobegone, and then the movie would never end. Fargo is as close to capturing and portraying real life as a director and bunch of actors can get. I wish IMDb had a just one time eleven so I could crown it emperor above all.
An instant classic. I must admit what attracted me at first was the wood chipper incident I had heard about but by the time the movie gets there, I was in a totally in a different universe. While the movie does not have anything to keep you glued to the screen (a wicked script, lots of action) you can't prevent yourself from wanting to see what happens next. This is due to the wonderfully portrayed characters. Steve Buscemi's performance as Carl Showalter is fabulous. I love when he is confronted by Shep Proudfoot and tells him to "hey man, smoke a f***in peace-pipe", or any of his conversations with Jerry Lundegard are priceless - "I'm not going to debate you Jerry, I'm not going to DEBATE". My recent favorite is when he storms out of the hideout and says "and if you see Shep Proudfoot, tell him I'm gonna nail his f***kin ass". The Jerry Lundegard character is such a beautiful loser, I don't know where to begin. I especially love his reappearing temper tantrums(slamming the phone book in his office, scraping the ice off the windshield, jumping up and down after his father in law leaves the house with the million dollars) and practicing the phone call to his father in law where he tells him his wife has been kidnapped - too funny. Marge Gunderson is the glue that holds it all together with a performance by Frances Mcdormand well deserved of an Oscar. I thought they might have overdid it a tiny bit with the scene with Marge and the two hookers (too many "Ya's" in it) but otherwise a wonderful, refreshing character in the middle of a bunch of losers. Her character is so honest and persistent, it makes me wonder why I cant find a woman like that - and then I realize, I'm watching a movie and a brilliant one at that.
With no major stars or well-known names, the actors outshine many more familiar personages. The story is well thought out. The criminals don't try to ingratiate themselves with the audience which adds to its reality. The acting is most convincing and the writing is excellent. Even the cold of a North Dakota winter comes across. Every film course should make use of this movie to demonstrate how to make a very good film without relying on a bottomless budget.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This should stand as the Coen brothers' tour de force, although I found "The Big Lebowski" to be an even more satisfying film. I look at "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", and "Brother, Where Art Thou?" as being the Coen's three best movies. I hope there is more from them in the future that can rival these three; though recent offerings such as "Intolerable Cruelty" and "The Ladykillers", could be proving their peak creativity is behind them. "Fargo" is beyond a doubt, their masterpiece. IMDb's ratings bear this out - 8.2 for "Fargo", 8.0 for "Lebowski", and 7.8 for "Brother". For sheer entertainment, "Lebowski" or should I call it, "The Dude" wins handsdown, but "Fargo" has all the elements of a true classic. Beyond a doubt, I have never seen such a dramatically-obvious portrayal of good vs. evil, and never, never, have I seen such gut-wrenching violence. Oh, the violence, beautifully believable, in it's grotesque way. This movie is proof that artistic freedom to portray such violence should never be denied. Steve Buscemi's bullet-grazed face becomes almost as painful for the watcher as it is for his character; Steve Buscemi's leg in the wood chipper is as horrific a scene as you are ever going to see. Enough to give Marge Gunderson morning sickness all over again. And the good vs evil thing: so obvious in the contrasts between Marge (the good), Buscemi and Stormare (the evil), and poor Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) squeamishly caught in a trap in-between. I could only handle the violence because of Marge. She is the rock of normality, who continues trumpeting the virtuous life, when all hell is breaking loose around her. She knows all-to-well that "you know what" happens, but always knows "you know what" can be flushed down the toilet. Frances McDormand, as Marge, deserves every acting award she ever got for this role. Marge, to me, is the most perfect cop I've ever encountered. She is polite, non-judgemental, yet able to ask the tough questions that gets her the information she needs. You can see how thoroughly she sizes up those she interviews: watching every nuance of their body language, and hearing ever inflection of their speech. Now here's a woman who can spot a lie when others can't. Unlike so many cops in movies, she doesn't have to beat information out of someone; she can charm it out of them, all the while appealing to their moral responsibility, no matter how immoral they may be.This is so well-shown in scenes such as talking to the two young hookers in the bar, and putting Jerry on the hotseat in the car dealership interrogations. I elected not to watch some of the scenes on my second viewing. Somewhat oddly, I skipped almost all the scenes involving Jean Lundegaard (the kidnapped one) - I couldn't bear to watch what was happening to this woman, knowing full well her fate. I felt so sorry for her; she was the true victim in this - the most innocent, yet the one who suffered the most. I guess a case could also be made that her son, Scotty, suffered equally, but most of what he went through was not presented on camera. Maybe he would suffer the most, for he had to live afterward. Even Marge would suffer from this catastrophe, but you know her suffering will be tempered by an unwavering belief that good triumphs over evil. As the last scene shows (Marge getting into bed with her husband): despite the horrors that might go on around us, we must seek solace in the everyday beauty of the things that are nearest and dearest to us all. And this message is conveyed to us all by the Coen brothers without any allusions to religion whatsoever. But I'm getting into a personal bias of my own here - if you take solace in religion playing a part in morality, so be it.
I didn't see this in the theater but saw it the first week it was out
for rental, and have enjoyed it ever since. In fact, I probably enjoy
this more each time I view it. It's a sick movie, though, make no
mistake about that. However, it holds a strange fascination, probably
because of the odd characters.
About the story: first, it is NOT a true story as indicated in the movie. That's a lie. It's a fictional kidnapping-turned into murder story with a few bloody scenes, lots of profanity (most of it by Steve Buscemi) and a comedy. Yup, this is pure "black comedy." It's dark humor mixed in with a parody about the way the Scandanavian people in the upper Midwest supposedly speak.
Both William H. Macy and Frances McDormand have some wonderful facial expressions along with their accents. Those two and Buscemi are the lead characters and all three "are a trip." Macy is hilarious; the best character in here, in my opinion. The more I watch this film, the funnier he gets. It's also the best role, I assume, ever for McDormand who was never a star before - or since - this movie. Her character in here, "Marge Gunderson," elevates this movie from just another modern-day sick crime movie, to an original. It's nice to see a wonderful husband-wife relationship, too, as is shown here with her and husband "Norm" (John Lynch).
You have this clean, old-fashioned lady cop (McDormand), a middle-of-the-road bungling car salesman (Macy) and two extreme low-life killers in "Carl Showalter" (Buscemi) and "Gaear Grimsrud" (Peter Stormare) all combining to make this story a mixture not only of people but genres. Other minor characters are strange, too, led by one of Marge's old high school acquaintances "Mike Yanagita" (Steve Park). Add to that some equally-bizarre music (slow violins) and you have this unusual story that brings out the morbid fascination in us viewers.
So, I guess what I am saying is this movie truly is an original, the best film the Coen Brothers have ever made and maybe the rest roles ever for the three main actors, McDormand, Macy and Buscemi.
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