157 of 177 people found the following review helpful
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.
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
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
35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2009
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
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.
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Whenever I rave about a movie I've recently seen, there's the inevitable question "What's it about?" With regard to this film, I recall responding that it's about a pregnant police chief who eventually solves a series of brutal murders somewhere in the Upper Midwest. (Brainerd, Minnesota? Fargo, North Dakota?) It is always a pleasure to observe Frances McDormand's performance in a role for which she received an Academy Award for best actress in 1996. The film was directed by Joel Coen who co-wrote the screenplay with brother Ethan. This film effectively combines some of the most dead-on (albeit affectionate) cultural satire of Scandinavian Americans in "Small Town U.S.A." with severe physical violence as when one victim is stuffed upside-down in a wood chip machine. (When I first observed "Margie" methodically gathering information, I was reminded of Colombo whose keen mind is also underestimated.) The basic story involves Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a desperate swindler. After his wealthy father-in-law Wade Gustafson (played by Harve Presnell whom I did not recognize) refuses to become involved in a real estate project, Lundegaard hires Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimstad (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud) so that he can use most of the ransom to cover his debts and thereby conceal his crimes. Of course, his plan fails and several lose their lives as a result. As the film ends, the camera focuses on Chief Gunderson as drives her police sedan across the bleak winter landscape (think of the surface of the moon beneath three feet of snow and ice), with one of the two kidnappers in custody. She claims not to understand how anyone could behave badly in such a "beautiful" world.
Yes, this is a nasty film...at times severely violent. It also has a number of delightful comic moments, notably during Chief Gunderson's conversations with her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch) as well as with Lundegaard. The acting by all members of the cast is consistently brilliant under Coen's crisp direction. After numerous viewings, what I still enjoy most in this film is McDormand's performance. Chief Gunderson may have a trusting heart but also a remarkably sharp mind. She wants so much to believe in goodness, to think the best of others, but she is by no means naive. As played by McDormand, she invests this film a warmth which is all the more remarkable, given the physical setting and time of the year.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2006
This movie is a knockout comedy/murder mystery. Jerry is an excellent example of the modern tragic figure. One almost feels sorry for him despite his wrongdoing as his desparate plan to solve his financial situation spins out of his control.
Also, Marge Gunderson is an excellent character. Despite her career as a cop, she still seems to retain that bubbliness that is stereotypically attached to people from that area. But in the end, after the completion of her investigation and her encounter with Mike (who turns out to be a fraudulent figure), Marge is completely disillusioned with everything. As she tearfully says "I just don't understand it," she seems to be referring to human nature in general.
However, this film also has its comical parts. The running gag of the midwestern accents throughout the movie is very well done. Also, this film has some great dialogue bits. The "Where's Pancake's House?" conversation is a classic. The recreation of the late 1980's for the film is also highly convincing with the '87-88 Oldsmobiles (many of which today are rusting hulks) and even the scenery with such subtle elements as the Miller sign in the background of one scene.
Truly this film will never die.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2006
Fargo is one of the best films of the 1990's. It revolves around a bizzarre kidnapping scheme that unexpectedly leads to murder. Filled with cold settings, quirky characters, and excellent performances, Fargo is an excellent film.
The central characters of the film are an overextended car salesman (William H. Macy), a pregnant police chief (Frances McDormand), and two kidnappers (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare). William H. Macy's character is not a good person, but Macy's excellent performance is able to make us feel his pain. Frances McDormand's character is well mannered, and strong willed, which is great to see in a female character. She definately deserved her oscar for her performance.
Steve Buscemi is great as always. His character is a criminal, but is somewhat likeable. Peter Stormare's character is underrated. His character is a psychopath who hardly ever says anything. His actions show his aggresiveness without even needing to say anything. I would rank his character as one of the best psychopaths, up there with Frank Booth from Blue Velvet and Tommy DeVito from Goodfellas.
The plot is pretty simple, but you still need to pay attention in order to understand it. Part of what I really liked about this movie is how the plot is simple, but the Coen Brothers managed to create a story of kidnapping gone wrong and murder without having an overly complex plot.
The score is very affective. It has a celtic feel to it and expresses the mood of the midwest perfectly.
The way the film is shot resembles Stanley Kubrick's style, as every shot is like a perfectly drawn picture.
I recommend Fargo at all costs. It has a wintry feeling that stays with you hours after you've seen it.
26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2006
I can't believe how many reviewers neglected the fact that part of the genius of this movie is the way it is passed off as a true story. Even the rumor that the cop was really a man just fuels the belief, although it is pure fiction. The acting is great all around, but Macy steals the show as the complex, pathetic Lundegaard, a spineless, wimpy guy who married the overbearing, egotistical boss's ditzy, innocent daughter. We never really find out why Jerry needs the money, although schemes involving a parking lot investment, insurance fraud, and a phony kidnapping are all backfiring as the plot unfolds. Perhaps he simply needs the money from the kidnapping and/or the investment to cover the auto insurance fraud screw-up when they call his loan back. It is never really explained, and to good effect. The impetus for the capers is irrelevant.
Macy's lies (very realistic for a used car salesman), private temper tantrums and loss of control, and lack of authority over his father in-law are perfectly played. The police interview scene in his office with Frances McDormand is pure genius, from the acting to the writing to the filming. This is movie making artistry.
Buscemi and Stormare are perfect as the not-quite-competent thieves hired for the project, with Stormare a cold-blooded and obvious sociopath and Buscemi an almost likeable lost soul.
This is a fairly realistic movie, other than the scene where Stormare fires a single perfect shot at over 100 feet into the back of a fleeing crime witness, who is running in deep snow and illuminated only by car headlights. It's nice to actually see a character in serious pain after getting shot, with lasting wounds, such as Buscemi's Carl Showalter suffers.
Not for the faint of heart, I recommend this movie 100%.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2011
Fargo (drama, crime, thriller)
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | 1996 | 98 min | Rated R | Released May 12, 2009
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English: Dolby Digital 2.0
French: DTS 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish: DTS 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
German: DTS 5.1
Italian: DTS 5.1
English SDH, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified and Traditional), Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, Turkish
Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc
The Film 5/5
***This review contains spoilers***
The first time I watched Fargo, I didn't know what to expect. After multiple viewings, it's still hard to pin down exactly what the film is. There's a bizarre plot focusing on Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) who works for his father-in-law's car dealership. Without ever learning why, we are told that Jerry needs money. His plan is to hire two men he has never met to kidnap his wife. He'll pay them $40,000, but he'll tell his father-in-law, Wade, that the ransom is $1,000,000. It's a simple enough plan.
Jerry's true nature is revealed early in the film when he openly lies to a customer. The two men he has hired are Carl Showalter (Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare). Buscemi plays the same type of character that he played in Reservoir Dogs, talking continually, whining and cracking jokes. Stormare barely speaks, but springs into action when he feels the situation demands it.
The plot unfolds with Jerry trying and failing to borrow $750,000 from Wade for a business opportunity. Carl and Gaear make their way into town and eventually get around to abducting Jerry's wife. It's here that Jerry's plan starts to go wrong. A cop pulls over Carl and Gaear while they have Jerry's wife tied up on the back seat of the car. Carl fails to recover the situation so Gaear kills the cop and a couple of witnesses.
After the triple-murder, the third main character is introduced. She's Marge Gunderson, a pregnant Police Chief. It's 33 minutes before her character appears, but it seems like she holds the film together. While appearing a little slow and dorky, she's actually highly-intelligent and intuitive. She quickly reconstructs the crime scene and realizes how the triple-murder happened.
Marge's intellect means that she's respected by the officers she works with, but her seemingly normal demeanor isn't threatening and the people she interviews are caught off guard. She also gives the film balance during the scenes with Norm (John Carroll Lynch), her husband. They have a wonderful relationship and each accepts the other for exactly what they are. The contrast between Marge's life at home and the way she performs at work is startling.
Jerry receives a visit from Marge at work, but manages to deflect her questions and she leaves without suspecting him. Later, we see a crucial scene where she meets an old acquaintance from school. He blatantly lies about his life and Marge leaves with a sense of unease. It's a reminder that people don't always tell the truth and she decides to visit Jerry again.
One of the funniest things about the film is Jerry. He's pretty dumb and almost every word that leaves his mouth is a lie. But Macy talks about the character in the special features and notes that Jerry never gives up. One disaster follows another, but he always revises his plan and believes that he can pull it off. It's interesting to see what he'll try next.
The film's supporting cast is full of intriguing characters. Wade insists on delivering the ransom money himself and that's exactly what someone with his personality would do. Marge interviews some hookers who spent an evening with Carl and Gaear and there's a funny exchange: She learns that one of the men was kinda funny looking. She presses for more information and is told that he wasn't circumcised. The film is full of this kind of dark humor.
There's quite a bit of violence, but it is confined to short bursts. I counted seven murders in all, but the quirky humor and tongue-in-cheek presentation never make the violent scenes too jarring. This is a film that should be viewed as a dark comedy more than anything.
Marge's closing monologue is simple and effective; it asks us to contemplate why people commit crimes and puts things into perspective somewhat. McDormand won an Oscar for her performance and thoroughly deserved it. Macy was also nominated and the film's screenplay was given another Oscar.
Video Quality 4/5
Roger Deakins' cinematography perfectly captures the desolate scenery and the Blu-ray presentation is pleasing to the eye. Detail is strong, and the ever-present grain is never too heavy. There are a few white speckles at the beginning of the film, but the image quickly improves. The upgrade over the DVD is easily worth the price of the Blu-ray.
Audio Quality 4.5/5
Although there's a lot of dialogue, the supporting sound effects are an important part of the film. It's particularly evident when the characters walk in the compacted snow and we hear a pleasing crunch. When shots are fired, they ring out clearly. Most of the track is front-heavy, but that's where most of the action is. The violin used in the score is particularly effective.
Special Features 2.5/5
The features are all presented in standard definition.
Commentary with Director of Photography Roger Deakins
Minnesota Nice Documentary (27:47) - The Coen brothers and main cast talk about the film, likening Minnesota to Siberia with family restaurants. Learn what the actors thought of their roles and how they enjoyed working with the directors.
Photo Gallery - Stills from the shoot.
Theatrical Trailer (1:58)
TV Spot (0:31)
American Cinematography Article - A series of stills discussing the work of Roger Deakins.
Fargo is an odd film. It grabs your interest early and slowly increases the tension as the story unfolds. You'll see a glimpse of what life might be like in small-town America, and you'll laugh. The Coen brothers have made some very good films and a couple of great ones. This falls into the second category. The Blu-ray presentation is a good upgrade and I strongly recommend the film itself.
Overall score 5/5
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
The Coen Brothers are among the most technically proficient filmmakers in Hollywood today. "Fargo" starts out quietly, with an ominous prologue informing the audience that this is a true story, and the names have been changed to protect "the dead." (It a widely known secret that this story is a complete work of fiction.) A single car plows slowly through the hostile Minnesota winter landscape, towing another vehicle as the music builds from an innocent accordion solo to an ominous orchestral overture.
This is the essence of the Coen Brothers' movies: we're going to mess around with your expectations. Our "bad guy," Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy's star-making role), is one of the biggest twits to wear the title "villain" in a long time. He's nervous, incompetent, and receives absolutely no respect from anybody he meets (deservedly so!). He's a car salesman (of course) in some serious financial trouble. True to form, the Coens never tell us exactly what the trouble is -- it's better left to our imagination. But Jerry has hired two crooks to kidnap his wife so the wealthy father-in-law will pay the ransom. The kidnapping is frightening, and the aftermath turns horrifyingly bloodly.
Jerry's house of cards begins to fall when Marge Gunderson (Frances MacDormand, winning her Oscar), sherrif of Brainerd, arrives on the case after three Minnesotans are murdered by the kidnappers. Marge is far from the dashing "hero" we get in so many Hollywood flicks -- she's seven months pregnant, waddles from meal to meal, and takes delight and comfort from the little things in life. Despite her morning sickness, Marge is a heck of a detective, and soon she's tracking down our dim-witted villain.
What makes "Fargo" such a phenomenal movie are the little details that it gets just right. The Coens capture the look and sound of Minnesota perfectly, and the unique Minnesota accent has never received such a loving nudge in the ribs. There's just something hilarious about two Minnesotans bundled up in enough snow gear to clothe a ski team observe that it's going to be a cold one . . . tomorrow!
MacDormand and Steve Buscemi (Carl -- "kinda funny lookin') are veterans of the Coen Brother movies, but the rest of the cast inhabits these roles like to the manner born. "Fargo" reminds us what an American hero truly is, and how so many of our goals are caught up in the foolish pursuit of money. Along the way, it makes us laugh and frightens us out of our skins.
After you see the movie, ask yourself which is more horrifying (or, which is more hilarious): the wood-chipper, or Mike Yanagita?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2006
This movie is a movie that could only come from the Coen brothers. It's histarical in a "I can't believe I just laughed at THAT?" kinda way. Some of the films more disturbing scenes are the funniest and that's what makes this film so great. So Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is hard up for cash, and he needs it quickly so he comes up with a scheme to hustle his father-in-law and his company (he works for his father-in-law...some used car dealership) out of a TON of cash. The only problem is that his scheme involves two dimwit thugs, Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stomare) the silent deadly type & Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi is his best role ever) the nerotic paranoid type, to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrad) and hold her for ransom. Things only get sticky when a few people turn up dead because Gaear has a trigger finger and then we have pregnant cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in a hilarious role) sticking her nose in to find the answers that lead back to Jerry. Hilarity ensues and it just keeps getting better and better. The whole scene where the thugs kidnap Jean is worth the price of the film right there. With oscar worthy performances and a script tighter than most...this is a film that stands out as perfect. Loved every minute of it.