The Coen brothers successfully un-shackled themselves as America’s most under-valued filmmakers with the release of Fargo. Having been much adored in cult circles for their work on Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, and numerous other titles–the Coens finally achieved both critical and commercial success with this quirky crime drama that plays like the tonal antithesis of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. The mixture of violence, humor and suspense has rarely been carried off with such ease and efficiency of plot.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a car salesman in Minneapolis who has gotten himself into an illegal scheme that involves fraudulent loans to populate his car lot. Desperate for money, Jerry employs two low-lives (Steve Buscemi), (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his own wife. The plan is to have the wife’s rich father (Harve Presnell) pay the ransom, which would be split between Jerry and the kidnappers. The scheme collapses when the thugs kill a state trooper and a car full of witnesses.
Frances McDormand is Marge Gunderson, a pregnant trooper investigating the murder of the officer and innocent by-standers. Margie’s ultra-polite demeanor hides a fierce detective, who happens to be the undoing of Lundegaard.
Fargo is a nearly flawless film. I would remove a scene at the midway point that has Marge and an old classmate reunite for an awkward get together. The photography is stark and haunting and the score pulsates with a dark hostility. The Coen’s have created original characters and their cast has animated them with such richness that two decades later, Fargo is still a masterpiece.
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi