Fargo (1996) – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

The next big title in DK Canada’s very enjoyable The Movie Book is the Coen Brothers’ classic, Fargo.

Supposedly based on a true story, it’s not, the film follows the inept kidnapping and subsequent murder all organized by a car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy). It seems Lundegaard is in a bit of financial trouble, and since he hasn’t been able to get money with any of his other plans, he hires Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrud) and have her rich father pay off the ransom.

Set in the wintery backdrop of Fargo, North Dakota and Brainerd, Minnsesota the actors seem to be having the time of their lives adapting and using that down east accent and charm even as the story goes sideways and gets bloodier by the minute.

The Coen Brothers seemed to have mastered storytelling with quirky characters, and Fargo is arguably one of their best. I said arguably, because they have such a great selection of titles it’s hard to settle on just one (The Big Lebowski).


Investigating the case, which draws attention when a cop is killed during a routine traffic stop, is the tenacious, and seven months pregnant, Sheriff Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). Filled with ayuhs, and you betchas, her dialogue is brilliant, and incredibly reminiscent of any time I visit New Brunswick and Maine.

The snow-filled landscapes dominated by the occasionally frightening appearance of a Paul Bunyan statue, are desolate, blank slates that soon become splattered in blood, none more so than in the famous wood chipper scene.

Buscemi’s Carl is manic, while Stormare’s Gaear presents a brooding monosyllabic menace. Macy just wants everything to go to plan, but his character is so inept, that everything spirals out of control, but he keeps trying to manipulate it and have things play out his way.

Balancing a mix of humor and drama, the movie takes us from Jerry’s first meeting with the kidnappers to the seemingly inescapable ending as things unfurl rapidly, and bloodily, all with dogged Marge in pursuit.

Fargo walked away with two Oscars. It was nominated for Best Picture, but walked home with Best Actress for McDormand, and Best Original Screenplay for the Coen Brothers. It’s smart, engaging, and incredibly well-crafted working as both a crime thriller and comedy.

The Coen Brothers carefully craft their film, filling them with fully realized characters that you feel have lives beyond the story you’re seeing, and use great locations. They take the time with their stories, and their characters, letting the film seemingly grow organically, but all in the service of the story.

I love their films. Make sure you check them out by picking up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book, or find a new to you classic to watch tonight!


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