Fargo is a 1996 American crime thriller directed by Coen brothers. This movie is a self-proclaimed “homespun murder story” set in the white-washed, winter wilderness of the frozen and bleak Upper Minnesota Midwest. The contemporary masterpiece explores the tension that accompanies polite social norms and the quiet desperations they often mask, and many scenes are awkward enough to make your skin crawl. Undoubtedly this snow-bound film noir genre glues us with white landscapes, unambiguous backdrops, a suspenseful crime drama and mystery thriller with outlandish satirical comedy.
I am sure this film delights as much as disturbing too for its bloodletting violence. You can also find those Midwestern characters in their flat-accented, local dialect, and embellished, down-home mannerisms, so much the white color all around and you get to hear ever recurrent phrases such as “You betcha,” “Aw Jeez,” “You’re darn tootin’, “Okie-Dokie,” “Yup,” “Be there in a jif,” and “Yah.” Coolly used dialogues and peripherals of characters, indisputably surprises audience into a fascinating journey
Fargo is said to be off-beat, original, realistic and straight-forward narrative, rambles us boisterously across Coen brothers favorite terrain. The film earned seven Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Original Screenplay for the Coens and Best Actress in a Leading Role for McDormand. It also won the BAFTA Award and the Award for Best Director for Joel Coen at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.
Based on the true events, the film begins in the winter of 1987- Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is desperate for money. His mechanic co-worker and ex-convict, Sheep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis) introduces Jerry to criminals Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare). Jerry travels to Fargo, North Dakota to meet and hire these two men to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd), and ransom her for $80,000 to his wealthy father-in-law and boss, Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). In this exchange, Jerry is to provide Carl and Gaear with a new 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and half of the ransom money. Though, Jerry covertly intends to tell Wade that the ransom demand is for $1,000,000 and discerning to keep most of the money for him.
In that interim, Jerry tries to convince Wade to lend him money for a real estate deal. Wade becomes interested in the investment, Jerry efforts to call off the kidnapping, but he is too late as Carl and Gaear are already en route to Minneapolis and cannot be reached. In the turn of event, Wade intends to buy the property himself anyway and give Jerry only a finder’s fee. Carl and Gaear land in Minneapolis, they kidnap Jean. On the way back to their cabin hideout, they are stopped by a state trooper. When Carl’s attempt to bribe the trooper fails, provokes Gaear and kills the trooper. Just in that moment, a couple in a passing car witnesses Carl moving the trooper’s body off the road and they drive away. Gaear chases after them until they swerve off the road, enabling Gaear to kill them.
So the next morning, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), a local police chief who is seven months pregnant, investigates the homicides. She construes the chain of events and follows the leads that arise, including interviewing two prostitutes who had serviced the criminals at a truck stop two nights earlier. Being informed that the criminals telephoned Shep from the truck stop- Marge drives to Minneapolis, but gets no information respite speaking with both Shep and Jerry. While her visit to Minneapolis, Marge reconnects with an old classmate, Mike Yanagita (Steve Park), who vainly tries to seduce her during dinner and then tells her that he has been lonely ever since his wife, Linda Cooksey, also from their high school, died from leukemia.
We see Jerry connecting Wade and Stan Grossman (Larry Brandenburg), Wade’s accountant, claiming that the kidnappers insist on dealing only with Jerry. Wade and Stan accept this arrangement at first, but Wade later changes his mind and decides to deal with the kidnappers himself. Likewise, Carl angrily demands that Jerry give him and Gaear the entire $80,000 ransom as extra payment for the murders. Well along, Shep tracks down Carl and beats him for potentially getting him in trouble with Marge. In anger Carl phones Jerry and demands he make the drop off that night at a parking garage. Though, Wade, who was snooping on their conversation, storms out in Jerry’s place with the ransom in his briefcase. When he arrives, Wade refuses to hand over the briefcase to Carl until Jean is returned. Incensed by Wade’s demands and unanticipated entrance, Carl kills Wade, but not before Wade shoots Carl in the cheek. Jerry arrives at the scene’s aftermath and puts Wade’s body in his trunk.
The following day- Carl discovers that the briefcase contains $1,000,000. He removes $80,000 to split with Gaear and buries the rest in the snow alongside the highway, marking the spot with an ice scraper. Carl then returns to the hideout and discovers that Gaear has killed Jean, claiming that she was too noisy. Subsequent to the dispute over the Ciera, Gaear murders Carl with an axe. On the other side, Marge decides to leave Minneapolis and just before her departure, she learns from a friend that Mike had lied to her about his marriage and about Linda’s death. She finds out that Mike has psychiatric problems and was essentially stalking Linda. This revelation causes Marge to re-question Jerry, now believing that he too had lied to her about the missing car and its possible connection to the Brainerd homicides. Jerry becomes nervously uncooperative when Marge asks to speak with Wade and angrily storms out of his office, claiming to go check the lot for the missing car. Instead, he flees the dealership, which prompts Marge to contact the state police.
Following the chain of events, Marge gets a tip from a local bartender, who was suspicious over a drunken Carl’s rantings a few days prior. She then drives to Moose Lake and finds the stolen car. She finds Gaear feeding the last of Carl’s body into a wood chipper. He attempts to run away across the frozen lake, but Marge shoots him in the leg and arrests him. Later, Jerry’s location is traced to a motel outside Bismarck, North Dakota, where he is subdued and arrested while attempting to escape through a bathroom window. The same night, Marge and her husband, Norm (John Carroll Lynch), sit in bed together discussing Norm’s mallard artwork, which has been selected as the design for a postage stamp. Norm is disappointed that it will appear on the 3 cent stamp instead of the more prestigious 29 cent stamp, but Marge is very proud of his achievement. The two hold each other close while expressing excitement for the birth of their child in two months.
Fargo plays out to be more than a spine tingling tale and in its sharp fierceness of the Coen’s noir style. The violence is so quick and stunning. You also see some element of relief through the absurdist humor and the exquisite sharp storytelling beautifully captured on screen. “There’s more to life than a little money, you know,” Marge tells a malefactor. “Don’t you know that?” The characters in “Fargo” mostly wouldn’t have a clue about what Marge means. Besides the film has been hauntingly photographed by Roger Deakins, with the precise use of white-outs, which sometimes make the characters appear to be moving through a mirage. You see a road disappear in a snowy void making ‘Fargo’ unimaginative visuals and unnervingly remote and in the nowhere region. As the title suggests, there is a steady sense of distance and uncharted territory. For all its exaggerated ordinariness, this film seems to start out where others leave off.
Absolutely this is a movie lover’s delight. I would surely like to spend watching Fargo over and again. There’s no other way to describe my frame of mind while watching. The two hours of sheer remoteness the film transport you to a place where the characters and scenes are so convincing in that unfamiliar zone and make us forget about everything that’s happening around. This movie is a classic, the kind of film you can watch more than once and will talk about for years to come.
- Written, produced & Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
- Cast: Frances McDormand; William H. Macy; Steve Buscemi; Harve Presnell & Peter Stormare
- Music by Carter Burwell
- Cinematography by Roger Deakins
- Edited by Roderick Jaynes
- Production company: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
- Distributed by Gramercy Picture; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
- Release date: March 8, 1996
- Run time of 98 minutes
- Country: United States
- Language: English