Rating -

Comedy/Thriller (US); 1996; Rated R; 98 Minutes

William H. Macy: Jerry Lundegaard
Steve Buscemi: Carl Showalter
Peter Stormare: Gaear Grimsrud
Kristin Rudrud: Jean Lundegaard
Harve Presnell: Wade Gustafson
Tony Denman: Scotty Lundegaard
Francis McDormand: Marge

Produced by Tim Bevan, John Cameron, Ethan Coen and Eric Fellner; Directed by Joel Coen; Screenwritten by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere."
-Tagline from "Fargo"

...And a lot can happen in 93 minutes. "Fargo" is perhaps one of the most prolific, involving, and curiously fascinating films that has ever been made. It combines a sheer energy of satire, comedy and thriller that it seems at first glance an impossible movie to make. But the infamous Coen brothers have taken the risks and succeeded, for "Fargo" is undoubtedly a masterpiece of everything within it. It's not often when movies combine so many different aspects of film, and it's not often that the strength put out by these combinations succeeds at such a positive level of potency. From beginning to end, it is a roller-coaster ride of satire, humor, fright, intrigue, and ultimately, pure entertainment.

The story represents something difficult for me as a critic. How do I describe it to you without spoiling anything? After all, every step of the way, the movie offers a glimpse of intense and surprising plot twists. So, my maneuvering plan for this is to simply tell the premise, and nothing more. If you are so unfortunate to have not seen the movie, see it. You'll be glad you did.

Picture this: the heartland, in the middle of a cold, frigid winter. It's the area of the country where the people talk with obvious heartland accents, and people still walk around proclaiming "Aw geeze" whenever there's trouble.

A local car dealer struggling for money enters a bar and seats himself at a table containing two others. One man is 'funny-looking,' and the other is grim, pale and stone-faced. The character is Jerry Lundegaard, played by the very reputable William H. Macy, and he is here to give these guys the opportunity of a lifetime. If they kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom, they get a very reasonable wage, while Jerry gets to make off with the extra cash, which he seems to think will come straight out of his father-in-law's pocket. Have I lost ya yet?

Anyway, the boys carry out this disastrous deed much to the surprise of Jerry, and after his father-in-law learns this, Jerry tells him that the kidnappers have requested a large ransom for his daughter; otherwise the family will never see her again. In truth, the kidnappers only get a portion of this money. Jerry himself plans to make off with the rest of it for his struggling car dealership.

On the road, the kidnappers are pulled over by a cop who questions them on the failure to put up the license plate tickets on the back window for the new car. In the back seat, tied in a sack, is Mrs. Lundegaard, who, when she makes a noise, then hears gunshots go off. The kidnappers not only have kidnapping to add to their criminal record, but the murders of a cop and two innocent people who pass by as they carry out the crime.

That, I'm afraid, is all I can describe. The movie is so complex and involving that it would be a shame to reveal anything else. It's heart is purely within the story, from the first moment you feast your eyes on that cold snow till the last minute you see a television shut off.

But the story is not simply the only strong point. The performances of William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and Francis McDormand are absolute gentle miracles. Macy's Jerry Lundegaard character is obviously a desperate, confused man who crumbles under pressure, and Buscemi's character is a foul-mouthed, naive shrimp of a kidnapper who couldn't go ten seconds without talking about sex or money. These performances are portrayed like you would expect them to be in real life, and are undoubtedly made for these actors, as you can tell by comparing them to nearly every other role you've seen them in.

But the movie belongs to Francis McDormand. She portrays the sheriff Marge, who is investigating the whole crime just as it unfolds. The morning after the murders, she enters the scene of the crime and is able to reconstruct the incident exactly as it happened, all by little pieces of evidence left here and there. Her ambition and ability to solve these complicated crimes astounds the officers around her, since, after all, most of them share a certain amount of dimwittedness between each other. Their lack of experience and potential backs up in the shadows and allows McDormand's to sneak out of the shadows. Meaning, while the other police officers fade, McDormand sticks around with the will power to solve this whole crime.

Everything just sort of sneaks up on you. With the situation and the whole concept, you can never predict what will happen, and because of this, it never gets boring, nor too complicated. That's the appeal to this Coen brothers movie; the fact that it combines so many different genres and never manages to get predictable. If that doesn't sound like the work of a cinematic genius to you, then I'd like to see you do better.

The most strange thing about the movie, however, is not the internal content. At the beginning of the picture, the Coen brothers leave a notice telling us that this film is based on truth. But long after the movie had been released, they admitted that this tag at the opening of the movie was merely false; made up, to be specific. I personally don't have any problem with them doing this, but it seems kind of pointless in doing so. It's a movie, for crying out loud! Half the stuff based on truth people don't take seriously, anyways. Plus, it seems kind of like a slap in the face to the residents of the heartland who know their history and obviously know that something like this did not occur in their neck of the woods.

So, what does the average heartlandean have to say about this false accusation? "Aw geez!"

1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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