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Fargo (1996)

A movie directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

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A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.

  • Jan 10, 2011
  • by
**** 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 in many ways it was; I just didn't find it to be the kind of clever that I expect out of the two directors. "Fargo" works because it knows damn well what we all want from the Coen Brothers; humor, violence, complexity, beautiful cinematography, and yes, even the savage darkness that humans cling on to throughout their lives. The best films from the brothers seem to focus primarily on the same effective themes of flawed characters, deceptive minds, and the violence of human nature. It comes to show, primarily in "Fargo", that there are men out there who are identical to the beast; thus they are savage and quite powerful. In "Fargo", the beasts are not powerful. Instead, they might as well be "lucky". Or maybe that's not the right way to describe it. Maybe I should say that they have the essential skills to live, although their cling on that savage lifestyle is not too strong. When I realized these things, I loved "Fargo" even more. As an experience, the film is fascinating, and as a film made for after-thought, it's also a wonder. It is the sort of film that just doesn't come along enough nowadays, and it's chock full of grit. You see, I like my Coen Brothers films with a lot of grit, violence, and art. The violence in particular never feels senseless, despite its graphic nature, and the films never promote it. It is meant to show the dark side of the world, and perhaps enlighten or even frighten us in the matter. Even if it never does either, "Fargo" still stands as a wonderful piece of intelligent entertainment. As the film may be one of the most well-written films ever made, I've got to respect it for also being incredibly entertaining. One of the best films of its year and one of the best overall for its decade, "Fargo" is an awesome, awesome film. The best thing I can possibly say regarding it is to see it.

A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere. This is one of the taglines that accompanies "Fargo", and once you see the film then you'll know what it all means. Just a side note before I get into anything: in the beginning of the film, there is text which claims that the events depicted in "Fargo" were true. Do not believe this: "Fargo" is a story which never happened. It is based on a couple separate cases, but fear not: it's merely a marketing thing. I guess even great filmmakers make use of it. The film begins with a man hiring two goons to kidnap his wife so he can take half of the intended ransom money for himself. All of the cards are laid out on the table and everything's all set, except for when the man gets a call which could mean that the kidnapping would not be necessary. He changes his mind about the entire thing and hopes to call it all off, although can't reach the goons before they get to his house and take his wife away. As they drive away with the man's wife in the backseat, the two villains take somewhat of a detour. The "taller" one kills a car-crash victim who hopes to run escape after witnessing the murder of a police offer (at the hands of the two goons, of course). The two murders are investigated by a Police Woman by the name of Marge Gunderson. This leads to a twisted turn of events in which the man is forced to seek out his wife with the help of some family friends, while the police try to get some leads on the incident. Just about everything that follows is a mix of comedy, horror, and shock. "Fargo" tells an intelligent story about the bloodlust that lies within each and every sadistic human being, although the film provides us with a new question: why do people do such violent things for such horrible reasons? The villains did it for money. They brutally murdered people, and for money. Does that sound pathetic? It should. We pity these villains near the end, especially when you see one feed the other to a woodchipper just so he can get all the money. It's crazy what people do for money these days, and "Fargo" aims to show that men can indeed go to extremes. The film does this in a rather powerful and riveting matter, rendering it one of the best films that the Coen Brothers have ever made.

Francis McDormand, in spite of the efforts of every single actor, is the only one who stands out this much. This is what I believe to be McDorman's best performance; a gritty and believable portrayal of a woman sucked into a world of seductive violence and madness. There's an endearing flavor that comes along with such an intense and powerful performance, thus I loved watching McDormand whenever she was the highlight of the moment. William H. Macy also reminds me of why, even though he's been in some serious crap lately, he's still a pretty talented actor. There seems to be some sort of classical feel to his character in order to give this film an overall classic feel. It fits well, I must admit. The villains are played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare. Buscemi I have seen (and liked) before, although Stormare is a whole new guy. Both of their performances are wonderful, although since Peter Stormare is the new guy to me, his performance was a tad more memorable. That's saying nothing against Buscemi since, as I said, his performance was great. It's just that once in a while, it's good to see something new. The only other thing I should note in this department is a television cameo by Bruce Campbell. The cameo alone is pretty satisfactory, if I do say so myself. But then again, it's the efforts of the cast that matters most. And that's mighty fine.

"Fargo" looks fantastic. That's the first thing I'm going to say. I think that this is important primarily because every Coen Brothers movie has a distinctive visual style, although "Fargo" gets the job done without being the creative visual goof that was "Raising Arizona" or even "The Hudsucker Proxy". It's a dead serious movie, and the wonderful cinematography makes us believe it. The angles are especially key here, and the quality of the picture is pretty good for the time. Another thing that I found so darned captivating about the film was the soundtrack. It was absolutely riveting, for some odd reason. It shouldn't be this incredible, but I must admit that it is. The mood of the film is sort of a mix between bleak darkness and incredible violence. This is a darkly funny albeit violent film, although everything pieces together perfectly when it's all over. Some will indeed be turned off by the film's dark tone, and I understand that. But you kind of have to expect that when you go into a film like this, so complaining is not going to do any good. I would indeed like "Fargo" to be a film which everyone else likes and I hate, but there's just nothing to NOT like about it. I enjoyed every moment. It makes you feel kind of intelligent when you watch it, and it never fails to dazzle. For some reason, it's also a film to make one chuckle. A typical Coen Brothers masterpiece, no doubt. But it's also the seldom captivating crime thriller that only the brothers would be capable of helming, and you know what: why not do it again? I loved this film from beginning to end, and I can only hope that all this insight will lead you to enjoy it as much too.

This is a compelling crime drama. There's no other way to put it. The film clearly wants to be as powerful and interesting as it is, and it drags us along for the violent, darkly humorous ride. This is what I love about the Brothers; their unfailing ability to amaze on some given level. "The Hudsucker Proxy" is a film which I feel was not deserving of their talents. "Fargo", on the contrary, is the kind of priceless follow-up that sort of lets you (or perhaps makes you) regain your trust in these men. Joel and Ethan Coen make like artists; they paint a slightly morbid but all-together creative and compelling picture. I have often compared filmmakers to artists. Hell, they are artists. If one can create something, even out of media, that could be showcased at a sort of "show" and be admired, then it's the work of an artist. "Fargo" is art because it tries; and the Coen Brothers are the artists because they don't entirely cut the strings on their puppets. They are in full control of the film, yet they sort of let it do its own thing. Maybe this is why I find the majority of their films to be so darned interesting. So yes, see "Fargo". It's a real genuine piece of work, whether you find it disturbing, compelling, or a combination of both which accumulates to something truly ominous. "Fargo" is a film of meaning, as are most Coen Brothers films, as I expect that Joel and Ethan Coen are experts when it comes to having an eye for pure genius. I applaud what they've done here. They have reached me as a film-goer. That is why "Fargo" is a great movie.

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January 17, 2011
EXCELLENT review, this is one of my favorite films ever. Glad you mentioned the Bruce Campbell cameo, no one ever seems to see it.
January 17, 2011
Yeah, what's up with that!!!
January 15, 2011
This is one of my faves from the Coens. It is indeed a great movie. Did you review "O BROTHER WHO ART THOU?" by any chance?
January 15, 2011
I've got the review on Rotten Tomatoes. Posting it right now.
January 15, 2011
awesome, will look forward to it. Make sure you post those reviews under MOVIE HYPE if you would be so kind. They'd be easier for us to find. Thanks!
January 17, 2011
Dude. I do that all the time.
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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 …
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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 …
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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 …
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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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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … 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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