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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Fargo

Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy
Director: Joel Coen
Rated: R
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: March 1996
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Suspense, Independent

*Also starring: John Carroll Lynch, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell, John Lynch, Kristin Rudrud, Steve Park, Jose Feliciano

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Andrew Hicks read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

FARGO is an amazing true story of a small time crime gone wrong. Think of the movie as a home spun and comical IN COLD BLOOD. It is told in a highly stylistic fashion by the Coen brothers. Joel Coen is listed as the writer and director while Ethan Coen is listed as the writer and producer. Actually all of their films (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, MILLER'S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY) are totally collaborative works.

FARGO has all the characteristics of a farce, but actually we are told that the story is done exactly as it occurred in the cold and snowy Minnesota winter of 1987. The film starts with bright white images on a snowy white background, and then the credits come on with tiny black type with wide spacing which seems a metaphor for the bleakness of the countryside. A dishonest car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (W. H. Macy who was so wonderful as the hard nosed principal in MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS), has contracted with two small time crooks to kidnap his wife so that his rich father-in-law, Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell), will pay a random that Jerry will then split with the bad guys.

Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) are the incompetent but cold blooded kidnappers and killers. Carl talks incessantly while Gaear rarely speaks and is more frightening. Gaear has a constant gaze as if he has no morals or conscience. They both are willing to kill anything that gets in their way even though they only hope to get $20,000 each from the deal.

When a state trooper stops their car after they have kidnapped the wife, Carl tells her, "Just keep it still back there lady or we're going to have to, you know, shot you." The deadpan way he delivers his lines is at once funny, moronic, and scary. The whole movie is a seamless blend of comedy and tragedy. One minute the audience is laughing out loud and the next it is gasping for breath. The closest recent movie to it in effect is probably PULP FICTION. In FARGO the dialog is not as well written, but the images are craft much stronger.

After the killers have murdered three people along a desolate road, seven month and massively pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is woken in the middle of the night so she can go and investigate. Before she leaves, her husband insists he fix her a good breakfast first and to him this means one "with eggs."

If this was the south, most of the people in the movie would be called, good old boy types. Instead, everyone in Coens's movie says, "Ya, Ya" and has thick Scandinavian accents. The Coens are from this area so presumably this is authentic. After she investigates the crime, she stops by and gets a paper bag of night crawlers for her husband.

She sounds like a hick, which most people associate with stupidity, but she is quite cleaver and brave, no matter how sweet and hooky she is. On the other hand, She has a partner who has an IQ firmly in double digits. Since his investigative skills are zip, she keeps his spirits up with a little humor telling him, "Did you hear the one about the guy who was too poor to get personalized plates so he changed his name to J3L2404?" The camera and the audience love her. A great character and an impressive piece of acting. Actually, all of the actors from the nervous W. H. Macy to the cocky Harve Presnell to diabolical Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are all excellent.

Many funny scenes are side plots that are not intended to go anywhere. Characters show up and are never seen again. A good one is of an old boy friend Marge runs into and decides to have a drink with and who tries to put the moves on her. There is another simple one of her pigging out at the local smorgasbord

If Roger Deakins does not get nominated for best cinematography, then the Academy is asleep. The snowy images are so strong. One of the best examples is a scene filmed from on high of Jerry walking despondently across an empty parking lot filled with snow.

Most of all, this is a Coen movie, and the best movie they have ever made. It brilliantly moves from comedy to poignancy to tragedy and back constantly. The images, not just of the sets like the huge lit up Paul Bunyan statue, but of the expressions on the actors' faces are as strong as branding irons. The Coen's style is unlike that of any other.

In a complex film the scene at the end give some hints as to what it might have all meant. As Marge says, "There is more to life than a little money." Later she says of the tragedies, "I just don't understand it," which may be the ultimate reality about the senselessness of it all.

FARGO only runs 1:38 thanks to fast pacing by editor Roderick Jaynes. It is rated R for bad language, some sex and nudity, and lots of blood. In one scene everyone in the theater went, "aaaaaaah", but they cut just before the blood flew in that scene. In others, people bleed a lot so they they have to hold something on the wound to stop the blood. You may have to look away in some scenes, but even so I did not find the violence excessive. This is a film suitable for teenagers only if they are quite mature. I think the film is flawless, brilliant, and certainly unique. I recommend this film strongly to you and give it my rarely awarded top **** rating.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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