FARGO (1996) 

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Frances McDormand
Steve Buscemi
William H. Macy
Peter Stormare
Bruce Bohne
Kristin Rudrud
Harve Presnell

Joel Coen



Time: 98 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy/Crime

Won Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Nominations for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Supporting Actor (Macy).

I just saw FARGO again and I have to say I was equally parts amused and disturbed. This is, at points, a terribly bloody film, but the Coen brothers always manage to include just that little bit of comic absurdity into the worst of these scenes to take the edge off the complete horror of the situation. That is where their genius lies. The Coen brothers seem to have a fascination with kidnapping plots, which figure prominently in many of their films (RAISING ARIZONA, THE BIG LEBOWSKI), but only in FARGO does the body count rise faster than in many slasher films. This is not a good film to be an innocent bystander in. No punches are pulled as the tension builds and the stakes get higher and higher.

William H. Macy plays Jerry Gustaffson, a gutless Minneapolis car salesman who plots to have his wife kidnapped in order to collect the ransom money from his rich father-in-law and pay off a $350,000 debt. Unfortunately, he hires two men so incompetent, they leave a trail of bodies scattered across the Minnesota countryside that leads right back to him. Macy is amazing as this mild-mannered man whose tired of being pushed around, but is also in way over his head. He just oozes both incompetence and frustration. Nothing has ever gone right for this guy. From the moment he sits down with the kidnappers, arriving an hour late, you know his plot is doomed. Despite his criminal behavior, Macy manages to be somewhat endearing. The utter defeat he experiences in his daily life makes you root for him to succeed, just this once...even if it's at the expense of his wife's life.

Frances McDormand is Marge, the pregnant police chief who finds herself in the middle of this awful mess. There's a very good reason why McDormand won many best actress awards for this part. She's not only the only decent main character, but she's also the moral center of this film. The one person, the audience can relate to who is as horrified by what happens as we are. No matter how gruesome it gets, she refuses to rest until these criminals are brought to justice. She is honest, intelligent and relentless, but in a sweet, unassuming way. She is brilliantly funny and intensely serious. A tough line to walk that she seems to do effortlessly. As she tells Gustaffson when he gets upset during an interview, there's no need to get snippy, she's just doing her job.

"You have no call to get snippy with me; I'm just trying to do my job here."

And what a sick job it is. Buscemi and Stormare play kidnappers so opposite and annoying it's a wonder they didn't kill each other the moment they met. A series of simple, stupid mistakes puts the cops on their trail as they kill anyone who gets in their way, leaving quite a wake of bloody bodies. They are, without a doubt, the most unusual pairing I've ever seen on screen. This is undoubtably one of Buscemi's best roles. He has some classic moments you won't ever forget. Stormare is silent, deadly and so, so scary. He's a man who has absolutely no respect for human life. The type of man you hope to never encounter in the real world. It's not a showy role, but he more than makes his presence known.

Marge eventually solves the case, but not before most of those involved find themselves dead. Kidnapping is an ugly business. Probably one of their most violent works, FARGO is not a film for everyone. I'm sure there are many people who would not find this movie the least bit funny. However, I'm not one of them. You may not be able to relate to the story, but the characters are plucked from everyday life. We all know people like this. FARGO is a simple story about ordinary people that will have you laughing at the most horrible things. They say this was taken from a true story and I don't know if that's true, but I wouldn't doubt it for a second. Only real people would be this stupid.

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