Joel and Ethan Coen are known for the violence and wit found in their movies. Since the late eighties, they have successfully built up a body of work that often focusses on crime and the ethics of it. Fargo, their sixth film, is certainly one of their best. Set in the cold and snowy landscapes of Minnesota, we witness five murders; all the result of one man’s foolish and selfish plan to make money quickly. In the film’s opening we meet Jerry Lundegaard. Jerry wanders into a bar where he meets Carl and Gaear. These two criminals meet with Jerry in order to discuss his twisted plan to get hold of his father-in-law’s money. The plan: the two henchmen kidnap Jerry’s wife in order to get a ransom out of her father. Little does Jerry know, this plan will lead to the deaths of many and to more complications than he initially predicted. The Coen brothers know exactly how to treat a story like this. They are talented storytellers who know exactly when to introduce certain characters and how to hold the audience’s attention. Fargo remains my favourite film by the directing brothers and one that I enjoy more and more on every return to it.
William H. Macy rarely disappoints. He brings to Jerry a certain vulnerability and naivety which makes him both infuriating and somewhat loveable. Among the most enjoyable moments of the movie are those in which we watch Jerry sweat under pressure – trying to squirm and wriggle his way out of trouble, as the walls gradually close in around him. Jerry is not a smart man. He is a simple man who is trying to satisfy his personal desires. It is uncomfortable to watch Jerry trying to avoid drowning in the consequences of his own immoral mistakes, but we are also eager to see him receive the justice he deserves. Francis McDormand is the delightful Marge; a soon to be mother, a loving wife and a no-nonsense chief of police. Marge only enters the framework in the film’s second half, causing it to become instantly more amusing. Marge sets out to track down the kidnappers and get to the bottom things. Marge is the eyes of the law and McDormand captures her sensibility and determination whilst keeping Marge consistently funny. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, our clumsy henchmen, also remain funny whilst being genuinely terrifying and dangerous; further evidence of this film’s dark but hilarious nature. Buscemi’s character is always agitated and somewhat erratic whilst Stormare is expressionless and menacing. They contrast one another in personality and intent.
Marge and her husband are the only truly good characters in Fargo. Surrounded by criminals, murderers and an abundance of moral corruption, Marge is determined to restore the ethical balance of the world around her. Fargo has a simplicity and a conviction that makes it one of the Coen brothers’ most timeless films. In the world of the Coen brothers the greatest crime is greed; a crime that is punished in various ways. Joel and Ethan Coen’s moral universes are not always as straight forward as Fargo‘s. A film all about the oppositions of good and bad, in the form of crime and the law, Fargo is not only my favourite Coen brother’s film but one of my favourite black comedies. The film plays around with the film noir genre and dances between the hilarious and the horrifying. I admire Fargo‘s use of the white landscapes of Minnesota which the Coens quickly splattered with blood and gore.
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