Fargo (1996) (R)

"Fargo" is a homey little murder tale. The crimes are gruesome, the people are nice, and greed abounds everywhere.
A man, Jerry Lundegaard, decides that he wants a lot of money, why? we aren't told. Perhaps he wants a new car or some land or maybe, just maybe, he's plain selfish. But for whatever reason he decides to hire a man to kidnap his wife and then he will collect half the ransom that his father-in-law will pay to insure a safe return of his daughter. It seems simple, but even the best laid plans of mice and men...you know the rest.
This simple assignment turns into something much, much more complicated and Jerry realizes that there are certain aspects of his crime that are unforeseeable: the whims of the criminal, the tenacity of his wife, plain bad luck, and people just being way too nice. Everyone is so nice in "Fargo" and this is what makes it so comical, while still being gritty enough to be considered a crime drama.
This movie is what placed the Coen brothers near the top of the film ladder. They are considered great directors and writers and much of this esteem is traced back to this film, which wasn't even close to being their first work.
Much of the film's success lies with its actors. William H. Macy is so flustered that it's almost impossible to watch, yet he's the mastermind behind the crime. Steve Buscemi is overtly talkative and enjoys running his mouth—he becomes enraged at the drop of a hat. But then—there's Frances McDormand who plays a down-to-earth, pregnant police officer named Marge. As Marge, she's practically perfect in every way. She's sympathetic and tries be kind to all people...but she has a limit that should not be crossed.
The Coens have a knack for writing dialogue, and indeed "Fargo" is the best example of this. Their interpretation of the North Dakota accent is exaggerated but not hyperbole, and again this is one of the finer points of the movie that makes it funny.
Oddity piles upon oddity as one bad situation lines up after the other for poor Jerry Lundegaard and his merry little kidnappers.
On a second viewing it's actually shocking to see how closely "Fargo" resembles another of the Coens's movies—"No Country for Old Men". In fact, the last scene is almost exactly copied in their later work. And even the characters are similar—Marge is identical to Tommy Lee Jones's Ed Bell.
But I find that I think that "No Country for Old Men" is a much finer piece of art. It has less rabbit holes, more impact, and is more finely crafted.
What the Coens manage to do time and time again is create drastically original and frighteningly human movies. The situations they create are so true to form that it's disorienting.
"Fargo" is a great film, one of the Coens best. I don't think that it's perfect or even close, there are moments that seem unnecessary and do not edify at all.
From the icy landscape in which it was shot to the little quaint phrases of Marge to irate explosions from maddened criminals, "Fargo" seems like a cinematic ride.
It gives a new emotion every time you see it. The first time it was the humor that struck me. The second time—the violence and the horror.
"Fargo" is puzzling and simple, it won two Oscars, one for best actress for Frances McDormand (well earned) and the original screenplay statue.
It's a picture that is well worth seeing.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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