Fargo (1996) – Coen brothers

Fargo, directed by Joel Coen and written by both him and his brother Ethan, is another gripping film in their portfolio, as is evident in their winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1997. Not only is the script phenomenal, but the acting is amazing. Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare among others, are well cast and do a fantastic job in their roles. Frances McDormand in particular stood out in the role of the pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson. She is capable and competent at her job – quickly able to decipher the events of the crime. McDormand received the Academy Award for Best Actress for her characterisation of Marge in Fargo and it is well-deserved.

The plot follows as Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) orchestrates a kidnapping of his wife (Kristin Rudrüd) in order to get his father-in-law Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell) to pay a ransom. He agrees to split this with the crooks that will carry out the kidnapping. His scheme however quickly unravels, and the criminals Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) and Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) react with acts of violence that cause the affair to become more brutal than Jerry had foreseen. The violence is not only shocking, but also done in a comedic way, such that the scene in which Jerry’s wife Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) is kidnapped is one of amusement. The incompetence and bickering of the crooks Gaear and Carl, alongside Jean’s utter fear and dread, creates a scenes of spectacle.

I found the film to have similarities to Quentin Tarantino’s work, from the witty dialogue, the nonchalant attitude to violence, how the character’s storylines intertwine and the accidents and coincidences that characters find themselves in. In Fargo the witty dialogue, paired with the ‘Minnesota nice’ mannerisms of the characters, adds to the dark comedy aspect of the film. The Minnesota based characters are well-mannered, polite and wholesome in their speech and this creates a dichotomy between what they’re saying and the way they say it. Jerry’s dialogue in particular is emblematic of the ‘Minnesota nice’ speech, with phrases such as “you’re darn tootin’”. These phrases from Jerry show how out of his depths he is in initiating this crime. It is also the Coen brothers creation of a character that does not fit into the archetype of the ‘bad guy’, like Gaear and Carl. A series of poor decisions have forced him to consider this his only option to escape his debt. His naivety and ignorance make him farcical.

Fargo is a well-directed film with flair and character. The pacing and editing of the film is done to perfection and it has unique dialogue and an immersing storyline. The film also looks great, and the wide shots of the snow covered roads add an eeriness to the film. The relationships between characters feel genuine, such as the loving connection between Marge and her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch), as well as the father-in-law dynamic between Wade and Jerry. The Coen brothers have crafted a crime film that has bloodshed and drama, but with an absurdist tone, that’s intriguing to watch unfold.  

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