They’ve done it again. The Coen brothers’ brilliant and subtle film Fargo (1996) is one of the best I’ve ever seen, hands down.
It is difficult to pin down the one feature that stands out in the film. There is a strong sense of familiarity about the life of a small-town community in Minnesota, with its vast deserts of snow and ice and its friendly and quirky residents. But the quiet life is disturbed by a kidnap plan gone wrong. At first, car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) only hires the two (somewhat underqualified) kidnappers, Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) to pretend to kidnap his wife so that he can split with them the $80,000 ransom that will get him out of debt and from under the claws of his abusive father-in-law (Harve Presnell). But soon the incompetence of the kidnappers combined with Jerry’s total unfamiliarity with crime life attracts the attention of the talented (as cop and as actress) police chief, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), who puts the pieces of the puzzle together quickly and accurately.
What I love about this film most is that it is unpretentious and aims to shows reality as it is. For example, in the scene where the two kidnappers visit a couple of prostitutes at a truck stop there is nothing particularly exciting about it, in fact, the four of them ending up watching TV at a cheap hotel room is the most honest depiction you can get of such real-life situations. Also the character of Marge is an extremely likeable pregnant woman who speaks in the most authentic accent I have ever encountered in films (“Oh, ya betcha, yah!”). By the way, her character was written with McDormand specifically in mind and indeed she proved to be spot on. There are countless of minor characters that are just so accurate, affable and convey such a sense of realism that as a viewer you cannot help being drawn into the world of the film, in anticipation, distress, and delight.
I consider Fargo to be Joel and Ethan Coen’s gift to the world of cinema. It is sure to infect those who are still (somehow) not touched by the movie bug, and to remind those who are why they love it so much.