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The performances, for instance, everyone speaks with what passes for an upper Midwestern accent, a very pronounced accent, let's say. So when characters are doing wicked things on screen, it's rather like watching people dressed in clown suits do nasty things. It's utterly impossible to take it very seriously -- only just seriously enough for us to feel sorry for the victims and to disapprove of the bad guys, but no more than that.
Everyone except the two killers are forced by their culture to speak and act cheerfully. They never swear either. "You're darn tootin'," they say. The casting couldn't be better, with Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, and Bill Macy outstanding.
The script is likewise splendidly done. It's full of scenes that seem peripheral except that they add to our understanding of the characters and often lead to later payoffs. Without taking the space to describe them, I will simply mention the scene in the restaurant between MacDormand and her Japanese friend from high school. Why is it in there at all? (My God, those hotel restaurants are depressingly ugly.) Well -- among other things, such as establishing the kind of milieu these folks consider Ritzy, it tells us quite a bit about how MacDormand handles attempts to violate her inherent good nature. When the Japanese guy tries to sit next to her she tells him firmly that she'd prefer it if he sat across the table so that she can see him more easily. When he breaks down in tears she whispers that it's all okay. She is polite, a little distant without being unfriendly, completely practical, and absolutely iron bound in her values. Nobody is going to take advantage of or discompose this hyper pregnant babe. Further, this scene is a set up for a later one. After MacDormand learns that the Japanese guy has told her a gaggle of lies, she wakes up to the fact that, yes, people can tell untruths -- and she returns to interview Macy a second time.
In another scene, when she's pressing one of the criminals during an interview, he excuses himself for a moment and she spots him taking off in his car. She exclaims, "Oh, for Pete's sake, he's FLEEIN' THE INTERVIEW." It's impossible to improve on a line like that, or on MacDormand's delivery of it.
The third element of the film that makes it superior is the direction. The pauses come at the right times. A woman is sitting on her couch watching a soap opera on TV. Through the glass door of her apartment she sees a man approach. He's wearing a black ski mask and carrying a crowbar. He walks up to her door and shades his eyes while trying to peer inside. Now in an ordinary action movie, by this time the woman would be screeching and speeding down the hallway. Not here. The victim sits there staring at the intruder as he fiddles at the door, half horrified and half curious. "Who is this guy? He's not the meter reader, is he?"
Coen the director has an eye for the suggestive picturesque too. Bill Macy has asked his father-in-law for a large loan for some sure-fire business proposition, but Dad offers him only a finder's fee. We see Macy's deflated face as his disappointment sets in. Cut. Now we're looking at a white screen punctuated by four or five bare trees equidistant from one another, and there is a tiny car in the middle of the whiteness. Then Macy's tiny figure trudges into the bottom of the shot and we realize we're looking at a snow-filled parking lot with only one ordinary-sized car in the center of it.
Wintery weather plays an important part in the movie. People die in it, drive off the road because of it, stand shivering in it. Two freezing people are conversing on the street while one shovels snow. The shoveler stops, gazes up at the sky, and remarks that it "ought to be really cold tomorrow." Cars and ambulances tend to drive in and out of white outs during blizzards and blowing snow. MacDormand is driving her murdering prisoner through a niveous white landscape in which nothing much is visible and she is mildly remonstrating with him, saying something like, "Why did you do it, for a little bit of money? It's a perfect day, and here you are." (A perfect day!)
There are seven murders in this movie. Only three take place on screen. The others either take place off screen or else the director has the good sense to cut at the moment the gun fires or the ax blade lands.
"Fargo" is one of perhaps half a dozen movies from the 1990s that I would consider buying on DVD. It's an original and refreshingly adult picture. Don't miss it.
Jerry Lundegaard is in some trouble. He hires two small time crocks from Fargo to kidnap his wife. The plan is for her father to pay off and for Jerry to take the money. Things don't exactly goes as planned as they kill three people and get a pregnant Chief on their tail.
The Coen brothers have does a terrific job on this movie. It's a well written, original story with an original setting and it doesn't try to be anything it isn't. Just a few characters, a simple plot and small scale. They stay away of clichés and don't even remotely try to mix in anything of that regular Hollywood crap. They manage to capture the mood, the people and the action pretty good. The characters are great, they're reasonable and believable. They manage to keep it serious, but not too serious and put inn a joke here and there.
The actors are great. They way they manage to put on a happy smile and make it seem polite and a little, but not all too false in a great way. William H. Macy is great as Jerry Lundegaard. He gives a little nervous, kind of boy scout performance and it fits perfect. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare makes two great small time losers. Buscemi is great as a small, funny looking, constant talking bad guy and Stormare fits the big silent, violent, psychopath type really good and they act these characters all the way out. Kristin Rudrüd does a good job as Jean Lundegaard and Harve Presnell as the rich dad is always a winner.
The cinematography is good. All of the shots are good looking and some of them are original, cool and extra good looking. All of the shots are well composed, the lightning is good, but not much out of the ordinary. There are a nice play with the colors in some shots involving the snow.
The score is really nice. The theme is a little sad and so is the movie. It's moody and supports the action and fits the settings very well. It's used in a classical way between the action and that works very well, it makes the action seem more real and more close.
Fargo is a original movie out of the ordinary. The story is good, well written and it's well brought to life and captured. The Coen brothers has made a timeless and very enjoyable movie. See it!
About the story: first, it is NOT a true story as indicated in the movie. That's a lie. It's a fictional kidnapping-turned into murder story with a few bloody scenes, lots of profanity (most of it by Steve Buscemi) and a comedy. Yup, this is pure "black comedy." It's dark humor mixed in with a parody about the way the Scandanavian people in the upper Midwest supposedly speak.
Both William H. Macy and Frances McDormand have some wonderful facial expressions along with their accents. Those two and Buscemi are the lead characters and all three "are a trip." Macy is hilarious; the best character in here, in my opinion. The more I watch this film, the funnier he gets. It's also the best role, I assume, ever for McDormand who was never a star before - or since - this movie. Her character in here, "Marge Gunderson," elevates this movie from just another modern-day sick crime movie, to an original. It's nice to see a wonderful husband-wife relationship, too, as is shown here with her and husband "Norm" (John Lynch).
You have this clean, old-fashioned lady cop (McDormand), a middle-of-the-road bungling car salesman (Macy) and two extreme low-life killers in "Carl Showalter" (Buscemi) and "Gaear Grimsrud" (Peter Stormare) all combining to make this story a mixture not only of people but genres. Other minor characters are strange, too, led by one of Marge's old high school acquaintances "Mike Yanagita" (Steve Park). Add to that some equally-bizarre music (slow violins) and you have this unusual story that brings out the morbid fascination in us viewers.
So, I guess what I am saying is this movie truly is an original, the best film the Coen Brothers have ever made and maybe the rest roles ever for the three main actors, McDormand, Macy and Buscemi.
A lot of what makes this film work is the amazing casting feat the Coen brothers achieved in giving Frances McDormand and William H. Macy, two of our best film actors, prominent presence in it. The Marge Gunderson of Ms. McDormand is one of the best creations the Coen brothers have produced. The same can be said of William H. Macy's take on the pathetic Jerry Lundergaard, the idiotic man who sets things in motion in the film. Ms. McDormand and Mr. Macy have only one scene together, yet one wouldn't even think about other actors playing these roles.
The supporting cast of "Fargo" is a joy to watch. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare make two of the most enjoyable bad guys in memory. These two scum bags are a joke. Anyone in his right mind wouldn't entrust either Carl or Gaer for a hit job. John Carroll Lynch plays Norm, the stoic man who is married to Marge. Harve Presnell is good as Wade Gustafson.
The atmosphere created by the Coens work well. We are constantly reminded of the deep winter seasons of the area where the action takes place. They have given their characters a local flavor and even to hear them talk would take us to that region of the country.
"Fargo" is a joy to watch thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen.
One of the things that I loved about this film is the colorful characters that are a trademark of every Cohen brothers film. In Fargo, these characters include dim witted hookers, psychopath kidnappers, a very pregnant sheriff, and a lot of snow. No matter how long or brief these characters are on the screen, however, they are all incredibly entertaining and fun to watch. That is one of the reasons that I enjoy films by the Cohen brothers. They have a great style and sense of humor that is all their own. They aren't afraid to be different from the Hollywood norm, and they make films on their own terms. Also, as evidenced by this film, they do a great job of getting the best out of every actor. I personally feel that William Macy and Frances McDormand have never been better before or since Fargo. I urge everyone to see this film and compare it to other great works of the last decade. I think you'll find that its place is right near the likes of Pulp Fiction, L.A. Confidential, The Usual Suspects and other great 90's films.
Basically the story is about a car salesman who needs cash...fast, so he pays a couple of guys to kidnap his wife so that her rich father will pay the ransom, thereby getting him the cash he needs. Well, all goes to hell as the kidnappers end up on a killing spree with a cop questioning all possible leads, including the car salesman himself.
If in fact this film was based on a true story (as indicated at the beginning), I would be horrified if I were close to one of the victims. The Coen brothers make a strange mockery out of the deaths of the victims portrayed and deter the audience from taking the film seriously, instead giving them a quasi-mental hypothermia with the serious/humorous dichotomy. And even if this film is not based on a true story, it is so poorly directed that I just felt like I had wasted my time going around in circles. But yet I'll walk out my front door and everyone will still be applauding this satirical trash. Sigh. What did I miss here?!
The title: The movie takes place mostly in Minneapolis (which isn't quirky enough -- that's where the Mary Tyler Moore Show took place, after all), and Brainerd (and nobody would go see a movie called "Brainerd"). About 5 minutes of screen time were set in Fargo, and Fargo has a quirky-enough sound.
"True" story: Just because a story is true, does that make it a better story? There is both good and bad fiction and non-fiction. So, what is gained by lying about whether a story is true or not? Quirkiness! See, if you believe this story is true, then all this quirkiness must be true too!
Names: Character names were given as Grimsrud, Lundegaard, Showalter and Gunderson. Apparently, Scandinavian-sounding names (especially with a double-a) are much quirkier than Pryce, Lopez, Rossi and Sheppard.
The weather: The snow and the cold serve no purpose but to make the characters put on parkas and snow boots, which make them look quirky. For instance, when the policeman was talking with the man shoveling his driveway, and had to put his hood up so far you couldn't see his face. Quirky! However, anyone who lives in a cold climate knows that when the sky is that grey and the snow is as wet as the stuff he was shoveling, it isn't all that cold...
Accents: Whether or not people actually talk "like that", what's the point of everyone talking like some country bumpkin, even the ones in the fairly large city of Minneapolis? Accents: quirky. No accents: not quirky.
Pregnancy: Apart from making the lead character wobble when she walked, and to give her a convenient excuse to throw up every once in a while, what exactly was the point of making the police chief pregnant? Ah yes, another quirk.
The old friend: A cop meeting an old high school flame at a bar. Sounds kinda dull, right? Well, let's quirk it up a bit. Make the cop a woman -- no, wait: a pregnant woman. Make the guy Oriental. Make it totally unnecessary to the plot. Now we're talkin' quirky!
By the time we get to the end, we're almost surprised that Macy's character sold plain old GM cars instead of Austin Minis or VW Beetles. The whole thing feels like the directors had no confidence in the subject matter, so they slathered on layer after layer of quirks in the hope the audience wouldn't notice.
In the end, it just becomes an exercise in frustration, as a movie that had everything going for it just turns you off after one wink and a poke in the ribs too many.
Surely none of the characters are real life persons but yet I'm not watching a cartoon. None of the dialog seems to be of this Earth, yet I'm not watching a re-enactment of our planet by the inhabitants of Planet KzOrp. So I can only imagine that I'm watching a comedy or at least a movie with an attempt at humor. I mean, what else could it be? It's too preposterous to be a thriller and the characters and the screenplay are too bizarre to make it a drama.
I must have been misinformed about this genre of film. Because it has always been my understanding that a comedy had something to do with laughter and amusement. A ridiculous situation could become quite funny, but truly not when the whole movie is ridiculous as well. Same goes for the abominable, hateful characters.
If the movie Groundhog Day, arguably amongst the best comedies ever made, was made by the Coen brothers, they would have had the entire village reliving the same day over and over again. And not only that, they would have made every character in that movie be twice as arrogant (Murray), dorky (Larry) and desirable (MacDowell) etc. Its result would be the a monstrosity of a caricature .
This movie lacks everything what Groundhog Day makes a good comedy; namely finesse, subtlety and something which makes the viewer not being alienated from the characters and above all, something actually funny going on. (Since when is a kidnapping and a lot of deaths a funny setting? Because Buscemi and Macy are in it?..give me a break, this is hardly Pulp Fiction)
For a crime/thriller based on actual fact, it lacks a seriousness and perhaps even respect to the events that have taken place. And the lack of means of time-travel aside, watching Fargo, I was expecting Jeff Bridges to walk onto the set looking for his stupid rug which would have been my longed for queue to press the eject button.
So all in all it is not a comedy, it is not a crime/drama/thriller but simply a Coen production. To me it's just an incredibly annoying in-between-genre film which cannot decide what it's supposed to be. Therefore it misses the mark on all counts which make the redeeming qualities of the production (and there are a lot) seem sadly wasted.
But it seems to be the minority opinion the bandwagon ride is so comfy..
Past that point it is merely a matter of whether the teasing engages or not.
Their previous movie was not well received. The original garment was a combination of a mild Capra screwball and a 30's newspaper fold of a sassy woman detective. The noir mechanics were made explicit, as were the cinematic components.
The audience by this I mean the general paying audience stayed away. They just weren't in the mood for clever deconstruction, no matter how polished.
This is a reaction. Its a wonderful project, just wonderful in its way, but also sad in the implied tightness behind the decisions you see.
What they've done is frayed the garment on the inside. Everything is sparse, bleak. All the camera setups are overly simplified, all the emotional mechanics understated. Most of it is buried in the snow.
If this movie were made by anyone else, it would just be amusing, a calm sketch of a deliberately uncaffeinated selling itself as if it were a chain of simple products.
But it isn't. Its a suppressed visit by extremists pretending to not be extreme. Its Lynch doing "Straight Story" and not asking us to know that over every dusk hued horizon is one of his ragged unreal movies.
Because of this, we see small gateways into the world of the Dude, or the Sirens. The unborn child will enter a different world. The postage stamp will fly to a different world (when the rates change).
Watch it for the simple garment, a dress covered by a coat. Watch it for the fraying and teasing on the inside, and imagine the colorful embroidery disturbed on the out.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
this film is very good, a little overrated i think though. it shouldn't be at around 120 in the top 250 but i guess this film rocked a lot of peoples minds.... good job again Coen Brothers...... 8/10........j.d Seaton
Sleazy car dealer Jerry Lundergaard hatches a plan to have his wife kidnapped so he can pocket some of the ransom his emasculating father in-law will have to fork over. Through one of his mechanics he gets the name of a low life who might be interested and travels to Fargo to work out the plan. Things go awry from the outset though and soon the cold snowy landscape is littered with dead bodies. Solving the case is left up to a last trimester pregnant Sheriff from Brainerd, Minnesota who initially comes across as a little slow on the draw.
Fargo is flawlessly constructed with subplots girding the storyline, enriching characterization and sharply calibrating the suspenseful pace. The frozen north setting is a refreshing change from big city and vacation land locales that dominate feature films and the Coens expertly put it to use to create mood, evoke humor and accent imagery. It is the best use of snow since Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
William Macy as Jerry takes the car salesman stereotypes to new lows with one of the most memorable cloyingly unctuous characters in film history as he dismantles his family in pursuit of wealth. Whether trying to tack on extras to customers or keeping police at bay while surrounded in a motel room he remains steadfast in deceptive practice until the end. As the Sheriff Frances McDormand evolves from small town cop to Colombo subtlety and successfully without fanfare while Coen economically brings more depth and mystery to her with dry comic snapshots of her married life and a meeting with an old school chum. As one of the blundering kidnappers Steve Buscemi is a motormouth of comic complaint while his taciturn, hypochondrial partner played by Peter Stomare (a lot more grounded in reality than the Frankenstein creation running amok in the Coen's No Country for Old Men) is icily terrifying.
Fargo is the Coens' best film to date. They fell into a malaise after The Big Lebowski with heavy handed comedies (The Lady Killers, Intolerable Cruelty), dependence on charming movie star George Clooney as well as a flaccid and forgettable foray into black and white (The Man Who Wasn't There) before going Oscar with the slow moving overrated Old Country, followed by the praise worthy acerbic screwball comedy Burn After Reading. Even with their failures they had more to offer than quality work of tamer directors by offering razzle dazzle camera work and original off-beat characters. Taking chances they sometimes pushed the envelope beyond credulity but with Fargo they give us a perfect measure of style and realism with a dark comic soul that is rich in detail and perception of this thing known as the human comedy.
some SPOILERS follow, don't read further if you haven't seen "Fargo" yet.
Bill Macy is perfect, absolutely, as "Jerry" the car sales manager who can't quite get his life in order. You see, Jerry basically cares only about himself. He has some unspecified debt, his father in law (Harve Presnell) is rich but has a very low, deservedly, opinion of Jerry. So Jerry does the only thing he can figure, through a paroled American Native car mechanic that works in his dealership gets hooked up with two thugs (Buscemi and Stormare) who will kidnap Jerry's wife, hold her safe, until Jerry convinces pop-in-law to pay a ransom, which he uses to pay off the thugs and erase his own debt. Ever the schemer, Jerry tells the thugs he will split $80,000 with them, but really plans to extort $1Million and just give them $40,000. In an early scene to establish character, we see Jerry scamming a customer by charging him for a "topcoat" treatment that he said a day earlier he would throw in free. Jerry was simply a very flawed person.
Things go terribly wrong, thugs get stopped at night in the snow, Stormare shoots the cop, plus two passers by who are tracked down after witnessing the crime scene. Margie (Frances McDormand, oscar winner) is the town sheriff and gets on the trail. She calmly travels to the Twin Cities, interviews people, pieces together clues, finds the hideout near the lake, comes upon Stormare grinding up Buscemi's body, the dead hostage in the cabin. In the interim the father in law gets gunned down, as well as a parking lot attendant.
This film is best classified as a very dark comedy. Margie and her fisherman husband are two of the very few normal people in this film, The others - Jerry, his family, the mechanic, the thugs, the prostitutes - are all way off center, and some of the situations and dialog are very funny, within the context of a film where a number of murders are committed. The funniest scene is during the shooting of Presnell, who wounds Buscemi on the right cheek, and he spends the rest of the film with rather large strips of paper stuck to his face to stop the bleeding, his hands and coat collar red and blood-soaked. I mean, there's really nothing funny about murder, but the Buscemi character is very funny.