Murder is the case in Coen brothers brilliant Fargo

Pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) takes aim at a fleeing suspect in the Joel and Ethan Coen film, Fargo, which deals with a kidnapping gone terribly wrong.

Photo courtesy of Michael Tackett/Gramercy Pictures

by Dave Sarles

Daily Cougar Staff

Uncompromising and innovative, the films of Joel and Ethan Coen are what some call an acquired taste. Dark and stinging with honest portrayals, the brothers have wowed many with their impressive list of six films that includes Raising Arizona and the magnificent Miller's Crossing.

Their newest arrival, Fargo, does not disappoint. Its scathing look at a Midwestern kidnapping gone haywire is hilariously funny, cleverly original and easily the best film of 1996.

Based on a true story that occurred in Minnesota in 1987, Fargo delves into a mystic world only the inhabitants know anything about- the Midwest. Unhappy car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), has gotten himself into deep debt. He was in so deep that he had to devise a desperate scheme to attempt to dig himself out of it.

He decides to hire two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife. Jerry believes the scheme will work because his wife's wealthy father (Harve Presnell) has the money to pay the ransom. Jerry will pay the thugs a small portion of the ransom and pocket the majority to consolidate his debts.

This all plays out perfectly in the mind of disgruntled Jerry Lundegaard. But unfortunately, things go terribly awry. What was intended to be a simple kidnapping turns into a triple homicide when the thugs end up killing two innocent bystanders and a state trooper amongst the frozen background of rural Minnesota.

If things weren't bad enough for Jerry Lundegaard already, they get worse. Local Police Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) takes the case, her first homicide investigation. Very pregnant and somewhat sheltered, Marge is undying in the search for the truth, and she turns into Jerry's worst nightmare.

A dark story played out upon the backdrops of an extremely foreboding arctic tundra, Fargo is fantastic. Whether you're familiar with Midwestern dialect and customs or not, after watching this movie, you will become intimate with them. And for those of you who see this film and think the Midwestern accents and subtle pleasantries are overplayed, you probably haven't ever been to Minnesota.

The screenplay was written by both Coen brothers. Joel is the director and Ethan is the producer. They were raised in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, and many locations in the film are places the brothers grew up in.

The story also follows a theme present in all of their movies: something can always go wrong. What makes it work so well here is that their inherent knowledge of these people and their mannerisms burst into reality on the screen.

Fargo is also not short on great performances. Macy's portrayal of the hapless Jerry Lundegaard is amazingly fresh. Every utterance of "real fine" and "you bet" conveys more and more the cowardliness of his character. By the end, you almost feel sorry for Jerry, in a pathetic sort of way.

McDormand also plays Chief Marge superbly. Muddling her way through the artic scenery with more pleasantries than a thousand episodes of The Brady Bunch, she is strong and smart. She possesses a frontiersman's spirit. Marge is probably an anti-hero by the standards of today's Hollywood, but McDormand keeps her furry police hat on throughout all the insanity.

Buscemi is also noteworthy. As the amoral thug, he is one of the few characters in the film not from Minnesota, and it is easy to tell. His discomfort with all the pleasantries that abound is hilarious.

Fargo is truly spectacular. The Coen brothers have brought a twisted tale to life brilliantly. The polar setting of rural Minnesota is captured fantastically amidst this contorted story. Sometimes overlooked amongst today's premier filmmakers, this film should definitely push the Coen brothers into that category. Not short on cleverness or wit, Fargo is easily the best film to roll out this year.

Last Modified: 8-17-96    © 1996 The Daily Cougar

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