Fargo (1996) Poster

(1996)

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You're darned tootin'!
aharmon2 April 2001
"What'd this guy look like anyway?" "Oh, he was a little guy, kinda funny lookin'." "Uh-huh. In what way?" "Just a general way." In that interplay between a Brainerd, MN., police officer and a witness discussing a criminal investigation, you have one of your principal pieces of dialogue from what is considered by many to be Joel and Ethan Coen's finest film. Of course you can draw comparisons to others they've made, such as Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, even Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski. But Fargo illustrates the Coen Brothers' takes on plot, art and drama more succinctly and emotionally than any of those others. Here you have a set of memorable, if not always likable, characters in a plot that goes from clunky to chaotic in the most unspoiled manner, from Jerry Lundegaard's stilted conversation with Gaear and Carl in a bar in Fargo at the beginning of the movie - the only occasion in which the movie specifically shows you Fargo, N.D. - to Marge Gunderson's confrontation with Gaear and the wood-chipper. Frances McDormand deservedly won an Oscar for playing a well-balanced, intelligent, pregnant police officer placing her own straightforward methodology on to an investigation of bizarre goings-on. And William H. Macy gives a true one-two punch playing a frenetically-charged, fearful and, in the end, inept used car salesman trying in the most remarkable manner to make money. The two best scenes in the movie are the two occasions in which Marge questions Jerry about the Brainerd murders and a car from his lot being involved -- I couldn't imagine an actress doing a better job of seriously but comically exclaiming, "He's fleeing the interview!" Notable among the actors as well are Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare playing Carl and Gaear, the two hit men hired by Jerry to help him con his father-in-law out of money. There's comic brilliance watching Stormare silently grimace at Buscemi's violent but gregarious behavior, and Buscemi shines being able to play the most out-of-control of all the characters in the movie. Kristin Rudrüd also stands out playing Jean Lundegaard, Jerry's haplessly kidnapped wife. If you can appreciate an intelligent look at not-always-so-intelligent life on this planet, you'll enjoy the little more than the hour and a half this movie has to show you.
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10/10
Don't Forgo Fargo
Robert J. Maxwell4 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Boy, is this a good movie. In its bare bones it is a crime drama but the Coen brothers constantly undercut the seriousness with a quirky irony. The acting, the script, and the direction lift the movie light years above most of the movies of its decade.

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.
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8/10
Thank's a bunch for this one
Stibbert12 November 2005
Fargo is a great piece of movie. It has a strong story and a strong cast. It's down to earth and believable.

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!
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10/10
A masterpiece of Shakesperean proportions
retroman8511 November 2004
I've always thought Fargo would make a great Shakesperean play; you could alter the modern elements and still have created a buzz 400 years ago in suburban England. Indeed, the plot is similar to Hamlet's, in that they both have characters we root for who create zany plans than end up spinning wildly out of control into bloodshed. Many people seem to like Fargo for its humorous qualities, its characterization of the Minnesotan culture and Frances McDormand- not me. I love Fargo for its brilliant writing, its tragic musical score, its tragic plot, William H Macy, Harve Presnell and Steve Buscemi, its ignorance of political correctness (how many movies can you remember when the only two minority characters were both revealed to be creeps).I want to draw attention to an overlooked reason why the film works so well - how well the music suits the visuals in this movie. Each murder scene is scored superbly, and other audio clues really add to the effect (for instance, notice how when the police officer asks Carl Showalter "What's this?" in reference to the abductee, a disquieting guitar sound is immediately played that has an instantaneous psychological effect on how you interpret the scene). I have seen this film over, well, an embarrassing number of times and have committed its screenplay, from start to finish, by memory. Fargo is the ultimate Coen Brothers movie, a brilliant tragedy, and restores my faith in Roger Ebert as he places this movie in as his fourth favorite movie of the '90s.
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10/10
The Best Effort From A Number Of People
ccthemovieman-124 November 2006
I didn't see this in the theater but saw it the first week it was out for rental, and have enjoyed it ever since. In fact, I probably enjoy this more each time I view it. It's a sick movie, though, make no mistake about that. However, it holds a strange fascination, probably because of the odd characters.

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.
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One of Those Rare Gems in the Cinema
tfrizzell25 June 2000
With all the sorry films these days it is good to see a movie as funny, wicked, dramatic, and utterly demented as "Fargo". It's one of those films that you just have to see. William H. Macy gives an Oscar-nominated performance as a car salesman who hires two thugs (one a know-it-all-know-nothing and the other a demented psychopath) to kidnap his wife so that he can keep half the ransom from her well-off father. Needless to say nothing goes right and Brainerd sheriff Frances McDormand (in an Oscar-winning role) comes in to save the day. I won't give anything away because the material is too good to tell those who haven't seen this inventive film. "Fargo" was ranked on the 100 Greatest Films list in 1996 and it was well-deserved. In this age of by-the-numbers film making, this film was a refreshing flashback to the risk-taking style that made the 1970s such a great decade for movies. 5 stars out of 5.
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9/10
Reflections on a second viewing
bob.gladish22 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This should stand as the Coen brothers' tour de force, although I found "The Big Lebowski" to be an even more satisfying film. I look at "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", and "Brother, Where Art Thou?" as being the Coen's three best movies. I hope there is more from them in the future that can rival these three; though recent offerings such as "Intolerable Cruelty" and "The Ladykillers", could be proving their peak creativity is behind them. "Fargo" is beyond a doubt, their masterpiece. IMDb's ratings bear this out - 8.2 for "Fargo", 8.0 for "Lebowski", and 7.8 for "Brother". For sheer entertainment, "Lebowski" or should I call it, "The Dude" wins handsdown, but "Fargo" has all the elements of a true classic. Beyond a doubt, I have never seen such a dramatically-obvious portrayal of good vs. evil, and never, never, have I seen such gut-wrenching violence. Oh, the violence, beautifully believable, in it's grotesque way. This movie is proof that artistic freedom to portray such violence should never be denied. Steve Buscemi's bullet-grazed face becomes almost as painful for the watcher as it is for his character; Steve Buscemi's leg in the wood chipper is as horrific a scene as you are ever going to see. Enough to give Marge Gunderson morning sickness all over again. And the good vs evil thing: so obvious in the contrasts between Marge (the good), Buscemi and Stormare (the evil), and poor Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) squeamishly caught in a trap in-between. I could only handle the violence because of Marge. She is the rock of normality, who continues trumpeting the virtuous life, when all hell is breaking loose around her. She knows all-to-well that "you know what" happens, but always knows "you know what" can be flushed down the toilet. Frances McDormand, as Marge, deserves every acting award she ever got for this role. Marge, to me, is the most perfect cop I've ever encountered. She is polite, non-judgemental, yet able to ask the tough questions that gets her the information she needs. You can see how thoroughly she sizes up those she interviews: watching every nuance of their body language, and hearing ever inflection of their speech. Now here's a woman who can spot a lie when others can't. Unlike so many cops in movies, she doesn't have to beat information out of someone; she can charm it out of them, all the while appealing to their moral responsibility, no matter how immoral they may be.This is so well-shown in scenes such as talking to the two young hookers in the bar, and putting Jerry on the hotseat in the car dealership interrogations. I elected not to watch some of the scenes on my second viewing. Somewhat oddly, I skipped almost all the scenes involving Jean Lundegaard (the kidnapped one) - I couldn't bear to watch what was happening to this woman, knowing full well her fate. I felt so sorry for her; she was the true victim in this - the most innocent, yet the one who suffered the most. I guess a case could also be made that her son, Scotty, suffered equally, but most of what he went through was not presented on camera. Maybe he would suffer the most, for he had to live afterward. Even Marge would suffer from this catastrophe, but you know her suffering will be tempered by an unwavering belief that good triumphs over evil. As the last scene shows (Marge getting into bed with her husband): despite the horrors that might go on around us, we must seek solace in the everyday beauty of the things that are nearest and dearest to us all. And this message is conveyed to us all by the Coen brothers without any allusions to religion whatsoever. But I'm getting into a personal bias of my own here - if you take solace in religion playing a part in morality, so be it.
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10/10
What a flick!
mccartnist_lennonist2 March 2005
If you haven't seen this movie, do yourself a favour and see it. It is very well put together and the plot is constantly evolving into a deeper shade of creepiness. At times scary (not in the horror movie sense) and quite rich in dark humour, this is one of those movies that gives you a weird felling inside even an hour after its over. The music is quite appropriate and unlike Scarface, is timeless. The camera work is usually quite basic but whoever directed the photography had the enjoyable habit of giving us interestingly artistic segways between scenes. This is the first film so far that I've given a 10 out of 10. I was going to give it a 9, but I couldn't think of a reason to take any points from perfect.
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7/10
Cold-hearted
paul2001sw-113 April 2005
The Coen brothers' 'Fargo' is nearly a great film: a beautifully shot, blackly comic thriller that quietly subverts every convention of the genre. This is a film where the remote mid-western city of Minneapolis plays the same role as New York in a normal crime story, a hub of civilisation and vice; where the hero is a woman (and a heavily pregnant, happily married woman at that); and the chief villain a car salesman of absolutely no slickness whatsoever. In a final irony, most of the action doesn't even take place in Fargo, but in the even more obscure town of Brainerd. Yet I found it hard to love this film. At brief moments (in depicting the relationship of policewoman Marge, played superbly by Frances McDormaid, and her husband), it feels astonishingly tender, yet at others, it feels as if it is simply making fun of the strange folks from outer America with the wacky accents and absurdly stoical demeanour. And the combination of deadpan acting and frankly silly plot excess sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Above all else, perhaps, 'Fargo' lacks a beating heart: while nearly moving, and nearly funny, there's a part of this film that refuses to commit itself, that prefers to hold back and mock not just its subjects, but also the idea that a film should take itself seriously. The Coens are widely celebrated as among the best film-makers of our age, but watching their films, I usually end up wondering whether irony is not a slightly over-rated virtue. Fargo looks lovely, and weird, and has a wry outlook all of it's own; but it won't make you laugh out loud, or cry. If it wasn't called a masterpiece I might almost like it.
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9/10
The Coen Brothers come up with another winner.
Ceetee5 August 1998
With no major stars or well-known names, the actors outshine many more familiar personages. The story is well thought out. The criminals don't try to ingratiate themselves with the audience which adds to its reality. The acting is most convincing and the writing is excellent. Even the cold of a North Dakota winter comes across. Every film course should make use of this movie to demonstrate how to make a very good film without relying on a bottomless budget.
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10/10
Paul Bunyan territory
jotix10031 January 2006
Joel Coen the director of "Fargo", proves he is one of our best directors with this tale of deception and murder told in a style that takes humorous turns in the action. "Fargo" is one of the best American films of the nineties. Joel Coen working together with his brother, Ethan, have made pictures that will be viewed as classics, as time will tell. Their movies are always an excellent way to spend some time because they always manage to deliver, even in films that aren't popular with the public.

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.
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9/10
Excellent Film
Cpartak5 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Fargo is one of my favorite films of all time and in my opinion deserves to be in the top 10 films of the 90's. From the onset of the movie, with views of the snow covered North Dakota landscape and the beautiful and haunting music of composer Carter Burwell playing in the background until the very last scene, Fargo never lets up. This film is Joel and Ethan Cohen's masterpiece, a truly original and one of a kind work. Every aspect of the film is handled with the utmost precision and care. The screenplay, written by Joel and Ethan, is in my opinion flawless. The dialog is at times serious and at other times hilarious, but most importantly always real and believable. The screenplay would be worth nothing, however, without the superb cast of the film that truly makes the characters come to life. Frances McDormand is perfect as the pregnant sheriff who is assigned to the murder case involving Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare. Steve Buscemi is excellent as always, playing a sleazy kidnapper who is perfectly described in one of the best lines of the film as simply "funny looking - in a general kind of way". The best performance, however, comes from William H. Macy who is absolutely brilliant as a desperate man who has everything to lose. Macy completely envelops himself in the role and captures perfectly the essence of a broken man whose world is crumbling all around him. The final scene in the motel when he is caught is incredibly powerful because Macy makes you feel the pain and sorrow that a man must feel when he knows that he's going to prison for the rest of his life.

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.
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10/10
Nobody seems to know that Fargo is
billpoet14 August 2005
Nobody seems to know that Fargo is first and foremost a beautiful and very simple love story about two ordinary rural small town American people and secondly a superbly acted crime murder mayhem movie, probably the best that has ever been filmed. Every character is genuine, believable, and Home, not Hollywood, spun. The suspense rolls in and out like a San Francisco fog. The side shows that are built in are amazing (sheriff's conversation at a bar with old acquaintance - stamp conversations - breakfast makings). The whole film is an American Shakesphere. I actually know frequent moviegoers who have not seen Fargo (and Sling Blade and Shine). I feel a special sorrow for them. Back to Fargo, every time I watch it I don't want it to ever end. I even sometimes find myself wishfully thinking I could move up there, it's a Lake Wobegone, and then the movie would never end. Fargo is as close to capturing and portraying real life as a director and bunch of actors can get. I wish IMDb had a just one time eleven so I could crown it emperor above all.
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7/10
Okay, but what was the fuss all about? Accents??
lestewart6 September 2004
I saw this film in 2004, long after the Oscar buzz had died down. I suppose it's a victim of its own hype. I enjoyed the film, but it seemed somehow smaller than I expected. Frances McDormand's Oscar-winning performance seems so trivial, seen through the perspective of eight years. The story is okay, though I again wonder about the Oscar the Coens received. (The 1996 Oscars were a somewhat weak field.) I spent most of the movie wondering if people in Minnesota and the Dakotas really talk that way, or is "Fargo" as much a travesty of regional accents as most "southern" movies are? Overall, the whole film was a nicely filmed, tight little story with apparently overdone regional ironies.
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2/10
What Did I Miss Here?!
jrfranklin0122 August 2004
Okay, so I've heard of the litany of accolades this movie has received. I've heard how this film is a "black comedy" by the Coen Brothers, who supposedly are geniuses in the film industry. And I've listened to friends discuss how creative and wonderful the film is. But none of this, I repeat, NONE OF THIS, is apparent in this movie. What I watched was a film confused at whether to be serious or comedic. And in making up its mind, both elements are fused together in a twisted fashion with an out-of-place Canadian humor.

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?!
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You betcha!!
george.schmidt13 March 2003
FARGO (1996) **** Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare. Dark comic undertones and excellent character actor performances dominate this richly macabre crime story gone awry flick by the Coen brothers(Joel and Ethan) involving pathetic used car salesman Macy so hard up for money and respect (not necessarily in that order) that he hires a pair of dim-witted thugs to kidnap his wife for ransom from his father-in-law's vast wealth in a plot-line that unravels with nice little twists and snags. McDormand (Best Actress) is perfect as a pregnant Midwestern sheriff on the case with a no-nonsense and homespun effect with her tactics of crime solving. Great cinematography by Roger A. Deakins accentuates the bleak winterscape of unearthed uneasiness. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor Macy, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay.
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10/10
Frances & The Coens at Their Oscar-Winning Finest!
Even people I know who can't stand the Coen Brothers' style *love* this slyly low-key comedy-thriller. Unlike so many "offbeat" movies, the quirkiness of FARGO's Oscar-winning screenplay never cancels out its warmth or suspense as the Coens deftly balance clever plotting (*not* really based on a true story, as a poor disturbed Japanese woman found out when she came to the U.S. to dig up the hidden ransom money only to freeze to death trying), engaging characters, scares, poignancy, and the brothers' trademark loopy humor. Darkly hilarious as the kidnappers' bungling is, it renders the violence all the more chilling; one minute you're laughing, the next minute you're cringing over the shock of sympathetic characters meeting swift, bloody deaths. I found myself feeling terribly sorry for poor, sweet, unsuspecting Jean Lundegaard (Kristin Rudrud), her vulnerable adolescent son Scotty (Tony Denman), her wealthy father Wade (a delightfully bombastic Harve Presnell), and the other poor slobs unwittingly caught up in car salesman Jerry Lundegaard's plot to get money out of Wade by hiring two thugs to kidnap wife Jean and hold her for ransom, not factoring in the kidnappers' lack of both patience and anger management skills. Nobody plays losers like William H. Macy, and he sure deserved his Best Supporting Actor nomination for playing Jerry, who ought to have his picture in the dictionary next to the word "inept." Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are letter-perfect as the loose-cannon wife-snatchers; if Buscemi isn't our generation's Peter Lorre, I don't know who is. But the heart and soul of FARGO is Frances McDormand, who truly earned her Best Actress Oscar here. Looking a bit like a young brunette Carol Burnett, McDormand is beyond superb as Marge Gunderson, the pregnant sheriff (my husband always liked the fact that FARGO doesn't include the nigh-obligatory scene of The Pregnant Heroine Suddenly Going Into Labor At The Worst Possible Time) who runs circles around the bad guys *and* her own well-meaning police force. Courteous and smart, down-to-earth yet slick, her luminous blue-green eyes never missing a thing, McDormand's Marge comes off as a warm Minnesota (is that an oxymoron? :-) female hybrid of Joe Friday and Lt. Columbo (I mean Columbo's stealth smarts, not his sloppiness :-). If you love FARGO, you owe it to yourself to own the deluxe DVD, chock full of way-cool extras too nifty and numerous to go into here -- oh, yah! :-)
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1/10
Could have been good, but just plain annoying.
Dr_J27 June 2003
I can only classify this film as a missed opportunity. While it did have a good storyline, worthy of a film noir, and some very good performances, especially by William H. Macy (you can almost see him crumbling under the weight of not just his crimes, but his cover-ups as well), it is tainted by the Coen brothers' directorial style. What made it intolerable for me was the amount of "quirkiness" that was injected into every single character, scene, and situation. Taken alone, each little quirk is not a big deal, but after so many of them, one after another, it just gets too much to stomach.

Some examples...

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.
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1/10
Shiny Happy Tedium
CineCritic251722 October 2006
What is it about these movies from the Coen brothers which appeals to so many people? How can anyone enjoy a slow paced, over-the-top acted borefest with an impressive collection of the most annoying personalities available. Movies which don't seem to go anywhere despite the fact that there is plenty of story to go about. It must be something masochistic which I don't get.

Fargo.

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..
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Internally Frayed
tedg18 August 2006
The Coens are masters of the tease. By that I mean they'll find a closely embroidered dress and then goof with its perfection. They'll pull this and that element of the colored threads out so that its frayed, disturbing the scene so carefully constructed by the original craftswoman. Superficially it looks more homemade, more genuine this way. But if you look closely you'll see that what they've done is a matter of orchestrated destruction. Things defined by their distance from other things.

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.
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10/10
a strong cast and a very good film by the Coen Brothers
Jamie_Seaton12 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
another winner by the Coen Brothers. not my favourite but still a very good film. the acting is brilliant by Frances Mcdormand, William H.Macy and Steve Buscemi. i love the voice lingo they use in this, its really odd. if thats how they talk in Minnesota then i better go there for a holiday ha ha ha joking. this film got nominated for 7 Oscars which is more than your average Oscar film, i think it only won 2 if i remember correctly. I'm glad Frances Mcdormand (a Coen Brother regular) won an Oscar for her performance in this. she deserved it. William H.Macy should of won something too i think.

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
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10/10
Fargo is Flawless
st-shot23 May 2009
Fargo is probably the last American Film masterpiece of the Twentieth Century and the last 25 years. Highly original and imaginative it is a depressing tale told in a dark comic style with flesh and blood characters intricately and smoothly connected with dialog and plot twists all brilliantly conceived by the brothers Coen.

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.
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An almost perfect film in its genre.
TxMike28 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I had watched "Fargo" several years ago, and just last night re-watched it on DVD. I intended to see half of it, go to bed at my normal time, and see the last half this morning. But it isn't that kind of movie. It draws you in, the dialog and editing are so good, you want to keep watching. And so I did. It deserves its high rating.

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.
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