Thursday, June 2, 2011

No. 84: Fargo

Official confession time. I call myself a movie buff, but of the Coen Brothers’ many great films, I’ve only seen Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Pretty lame, right? I haven’t seen The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, True Grit, or any of the rest. Until recently, I hadn’t even seen Fargo (1996) - today’s movie, and AFI film No. 84. Even worse? Fargo has been sitting in its original packaging on our family movie shelf. For at least a year. Oops.

I wholeheartedly enjoyed Fargo, and I regret not seeing it sooner. It was honestly one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and that’s saying a lot. Any movie directed by the Coen Brothers featuring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, and Steve Buscemi, a movie with lots of heavy Minnesotan accents and splattering blood, has to be good. I mean, it just has to be.

Fargo begins in snow-covered 1980’s-era Fargo, North Dakota. Cash-strapped Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) pays two petty criminals - Carl (Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) - to kidnap his wife so he can collect ransom money from his wealthy father-in-law. They do the deed, but on the road back to Minneapolis, things go wrong, bullets fly, and people get killed. Heavily pregnant - and highly intelligent - police chief Marge Gunderson (McDormand) must investigate the triple homicide. A few more murders later, Marge is just a step behind the criminals. She finally catches up with them – in a gruesomely famous scene involving a woodchipper. Fun! And justice. A surprisingly happy ending to a very gory movie.

Since I loved Fargo, I only have good points to discuss. First things first - the casting is brilliant. Steve Buscemi’s bug-eyed face enhances his character’s craziness, William H. Macy’s Lundegaard is simmering and scary, and Frances McDormand is simply fabulous. I also loved how the sets and locations felt real. The dingy bar, the cramped office, the ice-packed Minnesota highways – I felt like I could walk straight into the movie. The Coen Brothers are known for black comedy, and this script was brilliantly dark and witty. It won only two Oscars (Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay), but in my opinion, it should have won several more.

I couldn’t review this movie without discussing the look. One of the best things about Fargo was how, in some parts of the movie, the Coens chose to downplay all the spurting blood – and in other parts, when they wanted to fully show the gore, they used bright Minnesota snow to highlight the blood’s vivid red. The art direction, down to every gory detail, is amazing.

So, in all, if you like:

* Cartoonish Minnesotan accents (I’m sorry. They’re real!)
* Steve Buscemi discussing hookers and Waffle House pancakes.
* Steve Buscemi wearing a fur coat.
* Steve Buscemi getting shoved in a woodchipper.
* Intelligent, independent female heroines
* The Coen Brothers’ dark and witty dialogue

...then you’ll love Fargo. And I mean, you’ll love it. Would I lie?

Next up: No. 83, Platoon (1986.) The Oliver-Stone-directed epic about the Vietnam War is supposed to be a good one, and I’ve never seen it. Stick around and read about it!


  1. Good Review, and you finally saw an amazing movie. Also, jeez, you've never seen platoon?

  2. I like Buscemi's argument with the toll gate guy, and then later, we see that guy dead... skipping over the implicit confrontation.

  3. You betcha! Nothing like bloody, sticky Kleenex on a bug-eyed man in the snow. And all those northern MN vacations paid off: you know the accent when you hear it.

    Dear Killian: I believe she's seen amazing movies before. Thank you, Josie's Mom.

  4. Okay, I have to say it: I don't think you're missing much by not having seen The Big Lebowski. In fact, I am so not a Coen brothers fan.

    But that said, I loved your review. And I did really like Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

    Glad that you're posting again!

  5. So glad you loved this. Frances McDormand is a goddess—I love her implacable common-sense pragmatism in the face of all the bizarre and gruesome behavior around her. You captured the tone of the movie perfectly; especially the bright-red blood on Minnesota snow!

  6. Great review! I like your "if you like" reasons to see it, especially "intelligent, independent female heroines." Marge is one of the best female roles I've seen in the movies, and I love how original the character is.

  7. Another wonderful review, Josie. Seeing these films through you is a pleasure. The Coen brothers' films are favorites of mine, but all of the blood in Fargo did sort of pile on and eventually kind of overwhelm me, but I would have put up with an even more sanguinary movie to see the superb Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson. My favorite Coen brothers' film is the also quite violent neo-noir Blood Simple (1984). It's McDormand's first film, and she is entrancing. Once you've finished your AFI top 100 quest, maybe you could create a new and worthy goal to see all of McDormand's films.