Fargo

Fargo ★★★★★

"There's more to life than a little money, you know."

On the heels of their commercially ruinous neo-screwball The Hudsucker Proxy, the Coen brothers decided to return to more familiar territory—opting for a tragicomic crime saga set in their native Deep North (primarily Minnesota, notwithstanding the North Dakota town from which the film's title is derived). The modestly budgeted ($7 million) Fargo was a tremendous hit with audiences and critics alike, signaling the Coens' transition from critical darlings to popular staples.

Finding himself in perilous—though unspecified—financial distress, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) cuts a deal with dubious malfeasants Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife Jean (Fargo native Kristin Rudrüd) in order to extract a handsome ransom from her loaded father Wade (Harve Presnell). Jerry's foolhardy stratagem is further complicated by the fact that he demands from Wade a far larger payoff than was arranged with his intriguers, thus necessitating his involvement as courier. To put it mildly, Jerry is no career criminal—rather he is an underwater car salesman ducking ominous phone calls and jumping from proverbial rock to rock, so it's no surprise when things go haywire right from the onset. Relations with Carl—Gaear is very much the silent partner—deteriorate rapidly as unforeseen events transpire which arouse the interest of noticeably pregnant detective Marge Gunderson (an Oscar-winning Frances McDormand), who unassumingly tugs at the thread until methodically unraveling the misjudged conspiracy like a lady Columbo.

The plot is essentially a boilerplate morality tale about the spiraling effects of avarice and deceit (not unlike No Country for Old Men), but it's told deftly and laced with some of the finest black humor the Coens have ever produced. Carter Burwell's central musical theme—based on a popular Scandinavian melody—is both haunting and majestic, a perfect compliment to Roger Deakins' stately, snowbound cinematography (which is notably more stationary than in previous outings).

The film proved a breakout vehicle for McDormand, Macy and Buscemi, each of whom give outstanding performances. But it's Stormare as the silent, proto-Anton Chigurh figure of nihilistic savagery that really sticks with me after every revisit. Local color is also a major factor in Fargo, both in terms of the seemingly horizonless landscape and the multitude of regional actors that vibrantly fill out the cast. That this emphasis was not incidental or purely a budgetary matter is made clear by a quotation (of both brothers speaking collectively) culled from Ronald Bergan's so-so biography, "That specific Minnesota atmosphere was where the juice was for us. Fargo evokes the abstract landscape of our childhood—a bleak, windswept tundra, resembling Siberia except for its Ford dealerships and Hardee's restaurants."

Some stray notes:
-IT'S NOT A WHOLE PAY-IN-ADVANCE DEAL
-I'M NOT GONNA SIT HERE AND DEBATE
-OR YOUR FUCKING WIFE, JERRY
-GOING TO MACDONALD'S INSTEAD OF FINISHING HERE
-JEAN AND SCOTTY NEVER HAVE TO WORRY
-YOU KNOW WHAT A DISPARITY IS?
-THAT'S A FOUNTAIN OF CONVERSATION, MAN—THAT'S A GEYSER
-JUST TOTAL FUCKING SILENCE
-WE'RE NOT A BANK, JERRY
-YOU ARE SMOOTH SMOOTH, YOU KNOW?
-AND THEN THIS EXECUTION-TYPE DEAL
-WE'RE NOT HORSE-TRADIN' HERE, WADE
-YOU GOT ARBY'S ALL OVER ME
-THE HECK YOU MEAN?
-KING CLIP-ON TIE THERE—BIG FUCKIN' MAN, EH?
-I GAVE SIMPLE FUCKING INSTRUCTIONS!
-BUT I'M GOIN' CRAZY OUT THERE AT THE LAKE
-OOH JUST IN A GENERAL KIND OF WAY
-FOR PETE'S SAKE HE'S FLEEIN' THE INTERVIEW!
-YOU SHOULD SEE THE OTHER GUY
-IT'S JUST A THREE CENT

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