'90s Movie Month! "Fargo" Review

Photo Credit: Gramercy Pictures (I)

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'90s Movie Month! "Fargo" Review

Rating: R (strong violence, language and sexuality)
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: April 5, 1996
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Genre: Crime/Thriller/Drama

Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a Minnesota car salesman who is hiding a mountain of debt from his oblivious wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud). He would like to borrow money to pay off these debts from his father-in-law, Wade (Harve Presnell), but Wade holds onto his wallet with a hermetic seal. A desperate Jerry devises a plan to have to thugs Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) kidnap Jean in order to get tightwad Wade to pony up some cash. He then splits the ransom with the two kidnappers and uses his share to pay off his debts.

Of course, things go seriously wrong during the execution of the plan, and soon one small mistake leads to larger mistakes. It doesn't help that Jerry really isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, which means he really hasn't thought the plan out well enough to cover for the mistakes that are made. Soon, a few people end up dead, and it is up to pregnant sheriff Marge (Frances McDormand) to try and figure out whodunit. Though a few things sidetrack her during the investigation, Marge is determined to figure out how these bodies appeared in her otherwise pristine, polite small town.

Marge diligently reconstructs the crime scene and interviews several locals, including a very nervous Jerry. She may be pregnant and have a squad car that is on its last leg, but she is tenacious and eventually figures out that Carl and Gaear are behind the sudden crime spree. What she needs to do is further connect the dots to get to Jerry, who is trying his smarmy best to get out of trouble and doesn't even seem concerned about the possibility that he may never see his wife again. The only real questions are exactly how high the body count has to get before Marge can make her arrests and whether she will go into labor before she gets a chance to cuff anyone.

"Fargo" has been officially billed as a crime drama or a crime thriller, but it could also easily be called a comedy as well. This film doesn't have any cheesy knee-slapping comedic moments in it; instead, it is full of dark, brooding comedy that almost dares the audience to laugh. These darkly comic moments are floating throughout the film, and it may take more than one viewing in order for audience members to find them all. The good news is that "Fargo" is well worth the additional viewing, because it is one of those richly layered films that gets better each time a person watches it. Fans can find little things in their second or third viewing that they didn't pick up on the first time. In fact, more than fifteen years after the film was released, it still seems to be aging well, like a fine glass of wine that the Coen brothers pour for audience members each time they watch.

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, had made a name for themselves originally with "Blood Simple," which also starred McDormand. The fact that McDormand is married to Joel Coen probably has something to do with her casting, but she is brilliant in her role nonetheless. McDormand would go on to get nominated for just about every acting award possible for her role as the plucky, pregnant sheriff. It's fairly obvious that she feels completely comfortable working with the brothers, since this is just one in a long line of their films that she has appeared in. She won the Oscar that year for her performance in "Fargo," and it was richly deserved.

The other great thing the film did was to put Buscemi on the map. In 1992, Buscemi stared in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," which got him noticed but didn't quite make him the movie star he deserved to be. "Fargo" was the final push that got him over the movie star hump, and now he can pretty much pick and choose the roles he wants to take. His character provides much of the dark comic levity in the film, yet Buscemi keeps a straight face throughout the whole thing. It's a fantastic performance that rivals McDormand's as the best and most interesting in a film full of bizarre characters. The film's script is so good that it probably still would have been a great movie even without McDormand and Buscemi in it. Thankfully, audiences will never have to find out.

Rating: 4 out of 5