Fargo: 20th Anniversary Edition

Studio: Shout! Factory

Aug 08, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

It’s almost as hard to imagine over twenty years have passed since Fargo entered this world as it is to believe that quirky black comedy could spawn a successful TV franchise and a film based on an apocryphal hunt for buried money. But here we are twenty-one years, three seasons and Kumiko the Treasure Hunter later. Don’t let the burgeoning universe of Fargo distract though. All that matters is the original remains as perfect now as it was on first viewing.

The Coen brothers have made a lot of films and odds are Fargo will appear close to the top for most people. That’s no mean feat given the quality of their output. It’s also impressive because it could easily have become better known for reductive characters tics.

In amongst William H. Macy’s doomed attempt to raise money by ransoming his own wife lies that Minnesota accent, complete with all the “you betcha’s” a person needs, Steve Buscemi’s motormouth, Macy’s perpetually nodding head, and a wood chipper (praise be to Peter Stormare.)

But the Coen’s have always had a remarkable ability to construct characters from carefully woven nuance and hackneyed stage mannerisms. It leaves much of their filmography feeling like larger than life enhancements on solid reality. It’s how they get laughs from the bitterest of situations.

It’s the characters that first bring Fargo to life. As dark farce, the plotting is impeccable, yet the oddball people in the middle sprinkle the magic. It helps that the performances ring true. Anyone could be picked out, but Frances McDormand, as heavily pregnant, unfazed police chief Marge Gunderson has never been better, and Macy’s car salesman has him turning pathetic up to 11.

Everything else works too, from Roger Deakins rendering of the white isolation of a northern winter to Carter Burwell’s musical choices, at once haunting and reminiscent of a warped fairy tale. Throwaway scenes—take Marge meeting depressed sex pest Mike Yanagita (Steve Park)—are wonderfully enjoyable and not throwaway after all. They add little to the plot directly while adding everything to the characters who then circle back to the plot.

The tone is also impressively consistent, a hard-juggling act when mining bleak subject matter for tension and laughs. Watching Macy’s wife (Kristin Rudrüd) try to escape her kidnapping is funny and ridiculous, and ultimately painful, because it’s being conducted by funny idiots whose incompetence is exceeded only by their callousness.

When it comes to it, Fargo succeeds most of all because it’s happy to indulge the amplified peccadillos of small-town inhabitants without mocking them. Sure, there are plenty of buffoons along the way, but there’s also Marge Gunderson who can correct subordinates without humiliating them, who can investigate crimes efficiently, who puts herself in danger and then goes home to celebrate a picture of a bird on a stamp. The Coen’s love their quirks, and Fargo is a perfect demonstration of how they use them to create a world, not ridicule it. And what a world it is.


Author rating: 10/10

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