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Monday, January 21, 2013



My Favourite Movies: Fargo

Jerry Lundegaard (played by the always superb William H Macy) needs money badly. So badly that he hires two petty criminals (played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to ‘kidnap’ his wife so that he can pay them part of the ransom he plans to get from her rich father. What could possibly go wrong? Answer: Everything. Practically from the beginning things begin spiralling out of control – the criminals (who have only just met) develop a deep loathing for each other, the kidnapping is botched and almost immediately the police become involved as they follow a trail of dead bodies across the state. Headed up by Police Chief Marge Gunderson (played absolutely superbly by Frances McDormand) the investigation slowly but inexorably begins to focus in on Jerry’s activities which only make matters worse as he begins to panic.

From the very outset we are presented with a very different kind of film-noir or even neo-noir. Indeed because of the washed out colours against a predominantly white background the movie has, rather tongue in cheek, been called film-blanc. Between the sober music and the hostile weather we imagine that this will be a dark and forbidding movie. Of course in many ways it is – there’s plenty of violence, swearing, threats, a kidnap and plenty of blood all round. But at the same time this is a deeply comic film pointing the finger at the absurdity of the human condition all, as Marge comments later, for a bit of money. Marge is central to the whole film and McDormand deserved the many accolades she received for her portrayal of this down to earth, heavily pregnant and relentless police officer who appears to have seen everything and seems to view crime as deeply disappointing and the people who commit them as worthy of her pity more than anything else. She is obviously bemused by the criminal mind and can’t understand why some people go to great lengths – or great shortcuts – to get ‘things’ whilst outside is a beautiful day they singularly appear to be unable to appreciate.

The two petty criminals aren’t the only ones who can’t see how good they’ve got it. Jerry (played convincingly by Macy) is at the end of his tether after a deal goes wrong and can’t see any easy way out so fabricates a lie that quickly gets completely out of his control. Because of that at least 5-6 people die and his world collapses around him - again all for a little bit of money. Marge is very disappointed in him too, you betcha. Marge and her husband, who paints and dreams of having his artwork on a postage stamp, are deeply in love and very happy although in a subdued no fuss way. They don’t have to say much or do much because both of them know how good they’ve got it. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the cast who have no idea what they want but only know that they want more and they want it now! Beyond the tale of deceit and bungled crime this is the heart and soul of the movie. Be happy with simple things and don’t expect unearned money to bring you anything but trouble and lots of it. As my regular readers will know I’m a definite fan of the Coen brothers who produced, directed and wrote this film. It is certainly the best movie of theirs I’ve seen (I haven’t seen them all) and honestly one of my all time favourite films. It is a delicious black comedy about human folly and human greed which can still reduce me to howls of laughter after repeated viewings. If you haven’t seen this you’ve really missed out on something. I’d rectify that ASAP if I was you.

5 comments:

dbackdad said...

Fargo is absolutely brilliant and one of my all-time top ten. My favorite Coen flick as well. I could not imagine two actors besides McDormand and Macy playing those two roles. They are iconic.

This movie always has an added level of humor and poignancy to me because I grew up in this part of the country. Both my wife and I have friends and relatives that speak almost exactly the same as Marge (though they would not admit it). And the darkness of the film hints at the the darkness just under the surface of seemingly tranquil midwest towns.

wunelle said...

Yeah, this film is Pure Coen. All their great movies seem almost equal parts dark comedy and squirm-worthy violence. Has there ever been a character like Jerry Lundegaard? A man without a soul. Fantastic. I saw the film in a theater in Brainerd (the actual Brainerd) and people were *pissed* at the accents and speech mannerisms in the film. They were being made fun of and didn't like it. "Come ON," I thought; "If the film were set in Bismarck and called "Williston" you'd be laughing your ASS off!"

My fave film of theirs is still Miller's Crossing, followed by No Country for Old Men and Barton Fink. So many great films.

CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: This movie always has an added level of humor and poignancy to me because I grew up in this part of the country.

So AZ must be very different then! [lol]

wunelle said: I saw the film in a theater in Brainerd (the actual Brainerd) and people were *pissed* at the accents and speech mannerisms in the film.

That must have been hilarious!

wunelle said: My fave film of theirs is still Miller's Crossing, followed by No Country for Old Men and Barton Fink. So many great films.

Saw Miller's Crossing ages ago. Saw No Country recently, haven't seen Barton Fink yet.

dbackdad said...

Fargo, then Raising Arizona, then No Country. But, I don't think I've ever been disappointed by any of their work.

CK -- Arizona is a whole different kind of screwed up. Raising Arizona certainly captures some of that. Oliver Stone' s U-Turn does too.

CyberKitten said...

*Loved* Raising Arizona. Very funny film.