Top 100 Films #22 – Fargo (1996)


fargo_033pyxurz#22. Fargo (1996)
Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare

Fargo is perhaps the most iconic film in the impressive and prolific filmography of the Coen Brothers, thanks in part to the film’s many quirky idiosyncrasies. Fargo follows Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) as a pregnant police chief investigating the killing of a local State Trooper.  The murder has occurred after the pre-arranged kidnapping of Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy)’s wife Jean. Lundegaard is in desperate need for money, and has arranged for his wife’s kidnapping in order to extort his father-in-law for a ransom.  The two men responsible for the kidnapping and the murder are Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare), who run a sloppy and uncoordinated operation. Their mistakes eventually lead Marge Gunderson straight to the source, complicating the extortion plot and leading to a series of betrayals and backfires.  Fargo is the Coen Brothers are their very best from a writing perspective – the complicated and unfortunate situation of William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard is immediately established, and his motivations made clear, the lack of chemistry between antagonists Carl and Gaear is shown, and the investigative prowess and critical thinking skills of police chief Marge Gunderson become clear in time.  Every character is perfectly written and realized, with every one of them having their own idiosyncrasies and ticks – most famously Marge’s thick Minnesotan accent and good-natured attitude, Jerry’s nervous, innocent, and immediately suspicious demeanor, and Carl’s nonstop motormouth.  Fargo has been made famous by the sheer quotability of its dialogue, most notably the amount of “oh yeah”’s featured – even twenty years later anybody who has seen the film can’t hear “oh yeah” without immediately associating it with this film.  Frances McDormand’s endearing Marge Gunderson is one of the great screen characters of the 1990’s, “oh yeah”-ing her way all the way to an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1997.  Frances McDormand’s Marge is unintentionally hilarious, tough as nails, and far more complex than she is initially portrayed as – her awkward and uncomfortable scene with Steve Park’s Mike Yanagita and her subsequent revelations about his lies is one of my all-time favorite movie moments.  The Coen Brothers’ hilarious and suspenseful crime film is the basis for the highly successful television show of the same name, which has almost managed to match Fargo in terms of quality and bizarreness.  If you’re a fan of the television series and have somehow managed to avoid the film, do yourself a favour and see Fargo as soon as possible – it’s one of the funniest, quirkiest, most unique movie experiences you’ll ever have.


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