Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen)

A cold-blooded murder.

"This is a true story".

That is the opening statement here in "Fargo" which, more or less, automatically connotes the utter seriousness of the film's noir-like predicament. With seedy criminals like Steve Buscemi's funny-looking Carl Showalter and Peter Stormare's psychotic Gaear Grimsrud initially populating the screen with their presence, and with William H. Macy's Oscar-worthy performance as the awkward car dealer/equally awkward kidnap mastermind Jerry Lundegaard making the film more fascinating to watch, it's easy to foresee the unfathomable consequences that their weird chemistry and premeditated kidnap scheme would bring about.

And with that penetrating, albeit untrue claim, it is but common for the film to depict a criminal situation with diabolic relentlessness. But Joel and Ethan Coen, even though how limiting the film's genre and premise may be, are just too darn versatile, brilliantly sardonic and oddly comic to be hindered by limitations.

As a result, not only did we get a well-executed, wildly comic crime film, but, more significantly, also an unstoppable cinematic tour-de-force that wallows in cinematic perfection, be it in terms of characterization, the desperate plot or the finely photographed (by Roger Deakins) titular setting itself.

But if there's one reason that separates "Fargo" from other films, it surely is its peculiarly rhythmic dialogue. Delivered in all its integrity by the cast, especially by Frances McDormand as the pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson in what may be the most wisely chosen of all Oscar Best Actress winners, "Fargo's" tongue-in-cheek screenplay gives it an otherworldly comic feel with an originality that makes its own stand even when compared to Tarantino's uniquely trivial dialogues that has been an alternative staple for the crime genre ever since "Pulp Fiction" altered the stream of popular cinematic culture.

The film's story, told in a narrative that mixes violence, laughs and pity, involves Jerry Lundegaard, a car dealer that is waist-deep into money-related problems, and his plan to kidnap his own wife (by hiring the aforementioned criminal duo above) so he can 'monkey business' his way into collecting a million dollar ransom, which his filthy rich father-in-law (played by Harve Presnell) would pay.

But then the Coens couldn't just allow themselves to give us a smarter, calmer and cooler Jerry or a more organized and systematic Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud either because if that's the case, as common sense would always say, there won't be enough grounds for a film. Instead, they gave us a Jerry in the form of the great William H. Macy that is superficially smart, ostensibly calm and just a tad bit cooler than a panicky little rat who's merely dragging his own hide out of an unexpectedly nightmarish situation that he himself has created.

Shrouded in criminality and founded in frustration, "Fargo" is a double-sided film much like the Coens' later adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men". On one side, "Fargo" is an individualistic tale of a cornered man nearing himself into financial crumble and unnoticeable isolation who just happened to have formulated a perverse idea as his last resort. On the other, it's your common police procedural with a not so common police chief on the bloody trails of Showalter and Grimsrud, both of which are not really the smoothest of low-lives

If Tommy Lee Jones' Ed Tom Bell in the Coens' later "No Country for Old Men" displays the elegiac sentiments of a geriatric policeman who witnesses the Texan landscapes' criminal evolution with melancholic eyes, Marge Gunderson is a fast-thinking, no non-sense woman that is wholly focused on her work that, despite of the icy entirety of Fargo, always see every day as a beautiful one.

Naturally appealing and sometimes even condescendingly-toned, Frances McDormand proved in this film that she is one of the most agile actresses out there while at the same time effortlessly integrating her portrayal of Marge Gunderson into the pantheon of great film heroines. Marge may not be the most immediately memorable but she definitely is the most unique.

As time passes by, as I repeatedly watch "Fargo", my main reason for revisiting the film is becoming less and less about the plot itself but more and more about the characters and the wonderful dialogue.

When their masterful rookie effort "Blood Simple" was released in 1984, Joel and Ethan Coen were hailed as 'fresh' talents representative of the neo-noir world. After "Fargo", it was never the same for them, and they haven't stopped since then. But out of their wonderful body of work, "Fargo", after all of these years, still stands tall as their towering masterwork.



  1. Great review of "Fargo" my friend, very well written. I also love your movie blog! Regards Danny.


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