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Fargo (1996)

A movie directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

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FARGO: Come see our stupid criminals, bloody woodchippers and Babe the Blue Ox, Oh JA!

  • Jun 11, 2009
I was burned in the past by overhyped movies.

In 1994 Pulp Fiction came out and every show I watched had snippets of the movie and commercials for it were everywhere.  I saw it and honestly it wasn't what I thought it would be and came away cold.

Come 1996 and three movies were getting some big buzz again.  Fargo, Sling Blade and The English Patient.  Howard Stern on his radio show mentioned the former two of the three as being great movies and my brother told me Fargo was great.  I had NO idea what it was about and sat down and watched it and my God I was hooked from the first scene.

Not too long after, I began searching out other Coen Brother's movies to watch.  This movie turned me onto their work and I have been a fan ever since.

What was it about this movie that made it work the way it did?  It's portrayal of the worst idea in the history of crime?  It's take on the Midwest as a chipper (no pun intended) place to be with quaint folks with their Midwestern folksy talk and mannerisms?  Or could it be how every little thread comes together and we can follow a story from beginning to end?  Tightly constructed movies like this are a rare find and the movie still has some looseness to allow other scenes that only amplify what we are seeing.

The movie is about an inept carsalesman, Jerry Lundegard who has gotten himself into some bad debt.  Meeting two goons out of town that he meets through a mechanic, he gives them a down payment of a car he stole off his lot in agreement that they kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom.  Jerry's father in law (who owns the car dealership) will supply the ransom which Jerry will split with the kidnappers so that Jerry can cover the debts and pay off his stolen car.


To say that everything that does go wrong will go wrong in the worst ways is an understatement.  This plan collapses like a deck of cards that had an anvil dropped on them.  Murders occur, the GMAC breathes down Jerrys back, the father in law gets involved since he thinks Jerry is a dolt (and he's right) and a pregnant police officer is on the case and quickly puts things in order and Jerry has no idea what to do but panic and wallow in guilt as his master plan comes undone.  The movie takes it's time snowballing to a climax thats subdued by highly appropriate.

There isn't a bad performance in this movie at all.  Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare in particular as the kidnappers and Francis McDormand as the cop.  I don't think I've seen Steve or Francis ever in a bad role, or one that I didn't like them in save for Steves wacko cameo appearances in Adam Sandler movies.

I don't normally comment on a films score or cinematography, but the classical durge that fills that background in many scenes and the punctuated points in the tracks, normally saved for when a scene is either ending or begining is powerful.  You'll know what I mean when you watch.  The movie also looks nice and is nicely shot.  The scenes at Jerry's home feel warm and cozy and the barren icy fields and exteriors are appropriately cold with that icy fresh cool air that lets you know that it's cold out and could be dangerous too.

Fargo has gotten a little lost in the shuffle over the years by other movies and it's an injustice.  Fargo is a treasure to be dug up out of the snow and enjoyed. 
Marge Gunderson inspects some malfeasance One of the kidnappers commits murder Jerry Lundegard, incompetant salesman and planner Kidnappers get pulled over for and inspected Marge Gunderson The scene of the crime

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July 11, 2010
This is a fave movie of mine. Nicely done!
February 03, 2010
I think this is my fav Coen Brothers movie yet. I always loved it............and then I moved to LA and saw William H Macy at a gardening store. PERFECT.
February 03, 2010
Awesome. He seems so natural in that role. I just get more interested in the others in the movie myself but he is good.
February 03, 2010
I know. Just imagine him in the aisle with a sunhat and cutoff jean shorts. Willam H. Macy at his finest.
June 11, 2009
Did you catch Bruce Campbell's tiny cameo?
June 11, 2009
Now that you mention it yes, he was the soap star right?
June 11, 2009
Right! You really had to have your listening ears on in order to find him because he didn't actually have a lot of screen time.
June 11, 2009
Great review of an Awesome movie. This one never gets tired. You are right about the acting and the score. Both totally on point. After seeing William Macy in this role, it threw me when he played a normal character in another movie, since he was so perfect as that guy.
More Fargo (movie) reviews
review by . January 10, 2011
**** out of ****      With "Fargo", I think that the Coen Brothers have finally perfected their technique. This is not their first masterpiece, although it's the perfect antidote to the disappointment that was "The Hudsucker Proxy"; AKA, the Coen Brothers film before this one. The problem with "Hudsucker" was that it delivered exactly what I wanted it to, but in the worst of ways. I wanted that film to be silly; I wanted it to be satire. And …
review by . February 10, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
We are thirty minutes into Fargo before we finally meet Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), the petite but heavily pregnant police chief in small town Brainerd, Minnesota, who will become the hero we all needed. Relentlessly pleasant and attentive to other's needs, she is also observant, book smart, and people smart, knowing just the right attitude and approach to each character in the movie. She neither asks for nor needs any special consideration for her gender or her condition (although she …
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Another Coen Bros gem. Frances McDormand is nothing short of brilliant. Ditto for Steve Buscemi.
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This movie puts a bunch of stereotypes to bed without being preachy.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
My favorite movie about dumb criminals in the midwest and the worst idea in the history of crime. A Classic
review by . January 18, 2009
Fargo - Special Edition DVD
Jerry Lundergaard (William H. Macy) is obsessed with getting his grubby paws on his father-in-law's money. He's in "trouble" (what kind isn't explained, but my imagination tells me it's some kind of sleazy business or real estate deal. It's made clear later that Jerry faked VIN numbers on a GMAC loan to receive $320,000 - but GMAC is threatening to call back the money). He's so crazy to get money out of his father-in-law, Wade, that he hires two petty criminals to kidnap his own wife and split the …
review by . March 19, 2008
A story about a bungled kidnapping that leads to multiple violent deaths and leaves a teenaged boy orphaned seems like an unlikely recipient of adjectives like 'funny', 'wry', 'humane' and 'oddly beautiful'. But that's the impression that this beautifully scenic movie leaves.  So perhaps the best review is to say that Fargo is an upsetter of categories-a film that uses the awful aspects of American life to point out the beautiful ones.   In spite of the resolutely depraved nature …
review by . July 05, 2003
posted in Movie Hype
Whenever I rave about a movie I've recently seen, there's the inevitable question "What's it about?" With regard to this film, I recall responding that it's about a pregnant police chief who eventually solves a series of brutal murders somewhere in the Upper Midwest. (Brainerd, Minnesota? Fargo, North Dakota?) It is always a pleasure to observe Frances McDormand's performance in a role for which she received an Academy Award for best actress in 1996. The film was directed by Joel Coen who co-wrote …
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John Nelson ()
Ranked #5
Born in Wausau Wisconsin. Move at an early age to Ventura California and lived for 8 years. Growing up in a big city landscape didn't prepare me for my next move: Archbold Ohio with a population of … more
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About this movie


Nominated for seven Oscars and winner of two, this darkly amusing thriller combines a first-rate cast, "a dazzling mix of mirth and malice" (Rolling Stone) and a bizarre kidnapping plot that unravels the Midwest like never before. Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi, Fargo is a brilliant tour de force from the creators of Raising Arizonaand O Brother, Where Art Thou? *1996: Best Picture, Director, Actress (McDormand, won), Supporting Actor (Macy), Original Screenplay (won), Cinematography, Editing

Leave it to the wildly inventive Coen brothers (Joel directs, Ethan produces, they both write) to concoct a fiendishly clever kidnap caper that's simultaneously a comedy of errors, a Midwestern satire, a taut suspense thriller, and a violent tale of criminal misfortune. It all begins when a hapless car salesman (played to perfection by William H. Macy) ineptly orchestrates the kidnapping of his own wife. The plan goes horribly awry in the hands of bumbling bad guys Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare (one of them being described by a local girl as "kinda funny lookin'" and "not circumcised"), and the pregnant sheriff of Brainerd, Minnesota, (played exquisitely by Frances McDormand in an Oscar-winning role) is suddenly faced with a case of multiple murders. Her investigation is laced with offbeat observations about life in the rural hinterland of Minnesota and North Dakota, andFargoembraces its local yokels with ...
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Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
DVD Release Date: August 15, 2000
Runtime: 98 minutes
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
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