Netflix Movie Month: "Fargo" Review

Photo Credit: Gramercy Pictures (I)

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Rating: R
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: April 5, 1996
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (Uncredited)
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Crime Fiction

"Fargo" is based on a true story that took place in Minnesota in 1987. The directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, so shooting the film on location was an obvious decision. The cast selection proved to be ideal when meshed with this suspenseful, violent, yet comedic satire adventure that unfolds over the 98-minute viewing time.

In "Fargo," Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a car salesman who is facing bankruptcy. He devises a business scheme for a parking lot deal that would not only get him out of the red, but well into the green. His overbearing father-in-law (Harve Presnell) owns the car agency he works for and could easily help Jerry fund the project. But since his father-in-law looks at Jerry as nothing but a loser who is not properly providing for his precious daughter, Jerry is unable to swallow his pride and tell him about the project. When Jerry gets shot down after making a legitimate business proposal, he decides to go another route to get access to his father-in-law's money.

Jerry decides to hire a couple of lowlifes to kidnap his wife (Kristen Rudrud), and he makes a promise to split the $80,000 ransom with them. The scrawny characters he meets in an out-of-town bar, Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Grimsrud (Peter Stormare), convince him that they know what they are doing, even though it is obvious they do not. Showalter is a mousy character who does most of the talking, while Grimsrud offers more confidence with his lack of words. After the deal is made, Jerry hands over keys to a vehicle from the lot and a list of instructions, thus putting his life, and his wife's life, in the strangers' hands.

Jerry thought he created the perfect plan, one in which nobody got hurt and nobody got caught, but the crazy antics of lowlifes Showalter and Grimsrud were not accounted for in his plan. Anything that can go wrong does, leaving the audience on the edge of its seat throughout the entire movie.

The hired hit men take off on their adventure through the snow-covered landscape. They accidentally kill a few people before arriving at their destination. These victims are found frozen alongside the road the next morning by the calm, extremely smart and very pregnant police chief, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). Her overly cheerful tone may have audience members believe she is just a sweet, dumb female cop, but as she reconstructs the crime from the murder scene, it is apparent she is a very savvy detective.

Eye witnesses give a description of a tan Ciera with license plates that lead back to Jerry's car lot. Chief Gunderson questions Jerry about the vehicle, which he says must have been stolen. As he squirms and sweats through the cheerful questions of Chief Gunderson, General Motors hounds him about the same vehicle and some illegible serial numbers on paperwork for the tan Ciera. Jerry tries to send a fax to GM with smudged numbers, and they buy that routine about as well as Chief Gunderson buys his nervous behavior during his interview.

When events take place that leave the kidnapping unnecessary, Jerry cannot even do that right. One little detail he forgets is to get a phone number to reach the kidnappers he hired.

All of the characters, even those with small parts, leave a strong impression on the audience. The girls who meet up with the lowlifes in the bar before their killing rampage have one scene, but their lines were repeated by viewers for weeks after they saw the film. Marge Gunderson questions the gum-chomping, eye-rolling and hair-twirling girls about the men and receives a vague, but accurate description of a man whom they describe as "funny looking."

The unexpected climax of the film has a violent, yet still comical theme. As the story unfolds and the events take place, nobody in the audience expects what happens next.

The cast of actors in this film helped to bring a horrible true-life event to light in a suspenseful comedy drama like no other in film. The movie was expertly directed. It creates scenes that would otherwise be simply disturbing and turns them into a masterpiece plot. There is never a dull moment in "Fargo," even though the town may be one of the dullest places to live or work in real life. The film draws you in, keeps you in suspense, and has you wanting more even after the credits roll.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tags: Fargo