I put Fargo up there with the best. The Coens are young and productive, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with in their careers. They'll have a hard time topping Fargo. Some things I like about it...
--The way they mix violence with humor (not just gross-out easy laughs). Buscemi's reaction to Stormare shooting the cop is funny in a twisted way... but Stormare going after the young couple immediately after is scary and unsettling. This one scene sets the tone of the whole movie.
--Buscemi's reaction to Presnell's refusal to deal is funny...but Buscemi's reaction to being shot is also funny, and is also scary.
--Marge Gunderson feeling nauseated when she sees the mess at the crime scene...and it's just morning sickness. This brief moment really establishes her character.
--Marge Gunderson's relationship with her husband is really endearing, and is a thread that runs throughout the movie. It gives the movie a lot more humanity that most Coen films have.
--And Bill Macy; his character is so earnest and so out of his depth.
Fargo is a movie that stands up to repeated watching.
The DVD transfer is first-rate
on July 2, 2003
Of all the Cohen Brother's tremendously entertaining movies, this is the best. This is the one that they will be remembered for. William H. Macy plays Jerry Lundegaard, a man in a spot. He's a used car salesman that has been securing loans for cars that are not really in his lot. The bank is calling in the loans, threatening legal action, and he needs money fast. He forms a plan to have his own wife kidnapped, thereby splitting the ransom money between himself and the kidnappers.
It's a terrible plan, and it quickly unravels into a bloody mess of murder and betrayal. When bodies begin to mount, a local police officer, Marge Gunderson, is called in. Frances McDormand plays Marge Gunderson, and she makes the movie magical.
McDormand won an Oscar for the role, and this is one instance when the recipient deserved the award. She plays "Margie" with a huge dose of humanity. She is a character that sneaks up on you. When she is introduced, you wonder if perhaps she is just a small town officer in way over her head. She is pregnant, speaks in small town (Minnesota) idioms, and throws up from morning sickness when investigating the first brutal murders. She seems more like a nice, Minnesotan housewife than a cop. But early you get the feeling that there is something special about her.
The killings involve a traffic cop that was killed while issuing a ticket for a missing plate. In his log book, he was written DLR. When Marge's fellow officer says that he has run a search for all tags starting with DLR, Marge says gently, "I'm not sure I agree with you 100 percent on your police work there, Irv." She explains to Irv that DLR means that it was a new car, a dealer's car. "Oooh" says Irv, staring into space. Then Marge tells Irv a joke about the guy that couldn't afford a vanity license plate, so he changed his name to FGS1135. "That's a good one," says Irv, but it is clear Marge's wit has gone over his head.
The brilliance of the scene is that Marge is never cruel or condescending to Irv, never thinks less of him, and is not making fun of him. She is simply enjoying her own intelligence, and we can see the very private sparkle in her eyes.
Marge also has a core of steel. Watch the scene where she gets information from a menacing suspect by reminding him, with almost motherly concern, about all the trouble he has been in with the law, and the fact that he is actually in violation of his parole. She cracks him like an egg without ever loosing her smile.
All actors concerned give great performances. Steve Buscemi brings his pitch-perfect snide larceny to the table, playing one of the kidnappers; and Peter Stormare (who once played Hamlet in an Igmar Bergman production) utters perhaps 15 words in a terrifying performance as the other kidnapper. And, of cource, William H. Macey couldn't have played it Better. His Jerry Lundegaard is so full of stress and fear, you can't watch him without squirming.
I have read where this film has been criticized for making fun of the people of Minnesota, poking fun at their accents and manners. This is not true. The Coen Brothers grew up in Minneapolis, and this is their homage to their own people. The folks in Minnesota may talk funny to the reviewers watching movies in New York and Los Angeles, but this film in no way makes fun of them. At the end of the day, Marge and her husband are happily going to sleep in their bed, in love with one another and content with their shared life. How many other couples portrayed in a Coen Brother's film can make this claim?
How anyone can watch Marge Gunderson in action and think the Coen's were making fun of her is beyond me. Like Marge, they are simply enjoying their own intelligence.
on May 31, 2009
Having owned Fargo both on laserdisc and DVD, watching the Blu-ray transfer projected onto a 200 inch screen is like experiencing the film for the first time at the cinema. If not reference quality (this was a low-budget, independant production), the picture and detail are vastly improved compared to any previous home video presentation - the blood really gushes out of the screen. One can now actually see all the unsavoury goings-on in all the murky interior scenes. There is a lot of film grain visible, so thankfully little or no digital noise reduction applied here. The aspect ratio and framing are correct and the sound and dialogue are much clearer than on the very thin-sounding DVD. There are minor edge-enhancement gripes, as other reviewers have pointed out: halos around black objects placed against white backgrounds (see the opening titles, or the lamp posts in Gunderson's car lot) - but this shouldn't prevent any film fanatic from shredding the DVD in the wood-chipper and upgrading to this version.
Edit: The picture transfer on the remastered blu-ray released April 2014 is even better! The edge-enhancement halos are now gone and even more detail is visible in the darker scenes. The sound is the same and there are no new extras.
on July 31, 2014
The Coen brothers' new show starts off in a bare little bar outside of Fargo, N.D. A dark plot is being hatched. The conspirators seem confused, antagonistic, none-too-bright. Soon we leave the bar and the title city, never to return for the rest of the movie.
So, why is the movie called "Fargo"? Maybe it's because that's where chaos starts. For the next 98 minutes, we watch a hapless, smiley, terminally nervous Minneapolis car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), try to settle some debts by engineering the kidnapping of his docile wife and wangling a ransom from his millionaire father-in-law. This scheme blows up in his face after he hires the wrong thugs in Fargo: Steve Buscemi as motormouth Carl Showalter and Peter Stormare as taciturn Gaear Grimsrud. The error soon results in a triple murder, with more deaths to come.
And we also watch local super-sleuth Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), the very pregnant police chief of the Minnesota town of Brainerd, as she relentlessly tracks them down.
"Fargo" may be taken from life -- somewhere -- but it also carries us back to the land of the Coen brothers, the deadpan jokesters of "Blood Simple," "Miller's Crossing" and "Barton Fink." It's a bizarre American terrain where killers, goofballs, ordinary people, amoral businessmen and sleazy lawyers race around like mice in a maze, or rats in a trap.
Like "Blood Simple," "Fargo" is a tale of a murder scheme unraveling at the seams. Yet there's a difference. The Coens are native Minnesotans, and here they guide us back into the territory of their youth, a region they know from life more than movies. The results are both gruesome and scintillating. This is one of the smartest American movies of the young year. And Frances McDormand's Marge is one of the smartest protagonists, a kind of Columbo in maternity clothes.McDormand -- Mrs. Joel Coen -- has appeared in three of her husband's previous films, but she's never gotten a part like this. Marge is both a heroic role and a deliciously comic one. With her up-and-at-'em attitude, her constant geniality, her chipper calls of "Okey-dokey!" and "Thanks a bunch!" she fits into this insular world. But she also transcends it. She's the one who represents moral balance and clarity.
Against her are three wonderfully mismatched outlaws: twitchy Jerry, a salesman with a snap-on smile; voluble hipster Carl, who can't keep his libido zipped or his mouth shut; and grim Grimsrud, who barely says anything. Here is a trio made in hell. If Jerry hadn't hired such wacko hooligans, or if they'd had a smarter boss, the fuse might never have been lit. Buscemi and Stormare play these heavies to the hilt -- and Buscemi proves he's become a modern film-noir archetype all by himself.
In an old joke, homesick Swedish-Americans are supposed to tell each other, "I'm tired of North America. I'm going back to Minnesota." That's the landscape the Coens show here, of which Margie Gunderson and Jerry Lundegaard -- and Jerry's in-law family, the Gustafsons (perfectly played by Kristin Rudrud and Harve Presnell) -- are all part. "Fargo" gets much of its comedy from the Coens' sly use of Midwestern speech patterns and the underlying Scandinavian stoicism.
It's a hybrid world, and the clarity of the view makes it seem odder. A huge statue of Paul Bunyan, grinning and brandishing an ax, greets us at Brainerd's outskirts. A pathologically lecherous Japanese-American engineer (Steve Park), with a Swedish accent, tries to pick up former female schoolmates by telling sob stories about his wife's death. And two killers on the way to a kidnapping -- motormouth Carl and silent-as-the-grave Grimsrud -- bicker about smoking in the car and stopping at pancake houses.
Yet "Fargo" does have a feeling of truth -- despite the high style of the writing, acting and Roger Deakins' cinematography. The hip storytelling throws the mess of these lives into sharper relief. This is the way life often is: an idiotic jumble of bland daily routines in pancake houses and car lots, of dopey schemes that keep blowing up in people's faces. And of people who spend much of their free time staring dazedly at TVs, while the wind howls outside.
on April 21, 2014
The old blu-ray edition of Fargo has a hyper-detailed and sharp image. Unfortunately that came at the expense of artifacts (not film grain). True film grain looks more like a uniform plane of microscopic grains of sand - not harsh sparkles. Sparkles are artifacts. Until you see this remastered version it's hard to appreciate how much artifacting there is in the old blu-ray version. If you look at any scene with an expanse of sky, you won't see artifacts in this version. Some purists may say it is over-processed, but personally, I like this version.
on September 15, 2015
Having lived in Montana and spent a lot of time in both the Dakotas, this movie is so perfect in how it captures a part of America we don't see too often unless we visit those corners. The Coen brothers as usual, outdo themselves with a super performance from both Frances McDormand and Bill Macy. The script is very tight and the cinematography perfect in capturing the grimness and bite of the northern winter. Not for under 14s, I'd say, but for everyone else, a must see.
on April 5, 2016
I saw this movie in the theater when it originally came out. I didn't understand the point of it. I just watched it again, at home. I wouldn't say I liked it, strictly speaking, but I certainly appreciate it. It's an interesting movie. It has a lot in common with films by Quentin Tarantino, Roberto Rodriguez, and Jim Jarmusch. It's an uncomfortable movie, that's for sure, but one that has interesting things to say.
As much as I've liked all the Coen Brothers films, Fargo is far and away my favorite. But first, I should note that Fargo is kind of a misnomer, since most scenes take place in Minnesota, not North Dakota. Whatever. It's a suspenseful film with great acting by Frances McDormand as Brainerd, Minnesota police chief Marge Gunderson; Bill Macy playing Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard; and one of the Coen's favorites, Steve Buscemi, as a thug hired to kidnap Lundegaard's wife. It was also enjoyable to see Harve Presnell back in films after a long stretch in musical theater.
What began as a simple staged kidnapping quickly went bad, and the body count began to rise, and that's where the Brainerd police and Frances McDormand got involved. The police investigation points to Bill Macy, who's becoming unglued as the noose tightens. In the climactic scene, it's police chief Marge Gunderson by herself facing one of the kidnappers, a coldblooded killer who's already murdered one policeman.
The film shifts back and forth from the easygoing gentleness of police chief Marge Gunderson to the extreme violence of the bad guys. Be forewarned that there are some shockingly brutal scenes in the film.
It's a great film, the best of the Coen Brothers, and they've had some really good ones.
on February 25, 2014
You gotta watch it then, don't ya know. Dark, iconic humor. (Not for kids) Full of fun regional quotes. Turn on your accent and use them at your next gathering: "Okay, then! That's why we don't want ya goin' out for hockey!"; "So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."
on July 11, 2014
There are already a lot of reviews focusing on the film itselt, so I'm going to talk about the remastered edition.
I first saw Fargo some years ago on DVD, and it's a vast improvement, I didn't have the chance to compare it to the Blu-Ray released in 2009, but I've heard that it wasn't impressive, and that it has a lot of noise and grain, so I'd say it's safe to say that this remastering does a great job addressing those issues, because to me it looked like a movie that was filmed just yestarday. The Black levels are amazing, the details as well. Just one thing I read, the audio mix (5.1 DTS-HD MA) is the same as the previous Blu-Ray realease, but it sounds very good.
So I highly recommend on buying Fargo (Remastered Edition).