1996, R, 95 min. Directed by Joel Coen. Starring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell, John Carroll Lynch, Kristin Rudrud.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 22, 1996
Bouncing back from the commercial and (occasionally) critical failure of The Hudsucker Proxy, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen return to their Blood Simple roots with this bizarre, dialect-strewn tale of a kidnapping gone wrong that's apparently based on a true story despite its “any similarity to persons living or dead” disclaimer at the end. Macy is Jerry Lundegaard, a Minneapolis car salesman who hires a pair of none-too-bright goons (Buscemi and Stormare) to kidnap his young wife (Rudrud) so he can scam the ransom money to cover an unspecified debt. This being a Coen Brothers film, things go awry nearly from the get-go when the thugs manage to kill a state trooper and two innocent bystanders shortly after the kidnapping. This brings them to the attention of local police chief Marge Gunderson (McDormand), who quickly senses the broader scheme going on and inexorably begins to follow it back to poor, ever-nervous Jerry, a man so warped by fear and anxiety he seems about to explode every time a door slams. Filled with the Coens' trademark graveyard wit and unique camera angles (it occasionally seems as though every other scene is a long shot, taking in not only the icy, barren Minnesota/North Dakota plains, but also the petty crimes of its inhabitants), Fargo rockets along without a dull moment; it's by far their most tightly constructed picture since Raising Arizona. The performances, as well, are seamless, from McDormand's quaint, folksy Marge to Buscemi's and Swedish actor Stormare's vicious killers, to Presnell's take as the victim's wealthy, insufferable father. Some may complain that this is just another Coen Brothers' dialect-fest, but it's not just that, it's an immersion into the characters' world in toto, from the “Oh geezes” and the “Oh, yaahs” to the dark and flinty core beneath.