« THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN | Main | Saint John of Las Vegas »

January 17, 2010


Fargo_movieposterIn 1996 the Coen Brothers took the black comedy genre mainstream with the conceit that "Fargo" was "a true story" reenacted for their audiences’ twisted sensibilities. Many viewers bought the ruse hook-line-and sinker. With the buzz of Quentin Tarantino's cinema of blood-guns-and-irony penetrating every nostril of the era’s filmmakers and audiences alike, the timing couldn't have been better. The time was ripe for an unconventional crime story set in the unknowable snow-covered landscapes of Minnesota and North Dakota where people talk different. The Coen’s embrace of the area’s distinct regional dialect and quirky slang sends ripples of humor through nearly every line of their precisely designed script. If you’re looking for plot holes, you won’t find any here. “Yah, sure; real fine.”

The ubiquitous William H. Macy gives a wonderfully understated comic performance as Jerry Lundegaard, a weaselly car salesman (“executive sales manager”) with big money troubles. Jerry is so deep in debt that he can’t see straight. The jittery family-man sets tragedy in motion when he hires two hitmen (brutally played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrurd) in order to leverage a huge ransom from her wealthy dad Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). The cowardly Jerry politely requests that the criminals be “non-violent” toward his spouse. They don’t listen.


Accidents happen. Bodies start to pile up. Brainerd, Minnesota chief of police Marge Olmstead-Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is a straight shooter who doesn’t miss a clue while following up on the spate of criminal activity befalling her ice-covered community.

McDormand is the film's secret weapon. The clever actress’s deadpan delivery and maternal physicality resonates against the dark comic tone that the Coen Brothers spin like cotton into thread. Marge’s provincial verbal style and guarded benevolent charm disguises a well-honed nose for details. The pregnant Marge is a female Columbo if ever there was one. She’s also a pretty good shot when the circumstances demand.  

"There's more to life than a little money you know. Don't you know that?"

Marge speaks the film’s theme-line like she had learned it in kindergarten. “Fargo” is many things, and feminist think piece is one of them.


From its meticulous use of contextualizing camera angles and flawless suspense-building sequences, the picture is the kind of Shakespearian black comedy you can rediscover over and over again. The laughs and shocks never fade regardless of how many times you’ve seen “Fargo.” Buckle up, this is one wild ride.

Rated R. 98 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

A small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos



Throwback Thursday

Podcast Series