FARGO — CLASSIC FILM PICK
In 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)
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