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FARGO (1996) - R

Decidedly in financial despair, Jerry Lundegaard devises a plan to have his wife kidnapped and ransomed—only with the expectation that her wealthy father will fork out the cash that Jerry intends to split between himself and his accomplices.  However, Jerry’s inability to hire the "right" guys for the job provokes nothing but chaos as two losers from Fargo, North Dakota set about ruining Jerry's already troubled life to the point of no return.  

The cast includes: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare, Kirstin Rudrud, John Carroll Lynch, Larry Brandenburg, Steven Reevis, and Jose Feliciano.

Director Joel Coen delivers a quirky, offbeat, true-life Minnesota comedic crime drama. Coen received a nomination for best directing.

#84 on the AFI Top 100.

FARGO was nominated for the Best Picture award.

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Promotional Lines: "A homespun Murder Story."
"Small town. Big crime. Dead cold."

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During a cold North Dakota winter, a 7 month pregnant cop, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) investigates the murders of a cop and another man, found dead in her jurisdiction. Things take a turn for the quirky, as she persistently investigates, following a trail to Minnesota. She slowly unravels an inept plan to kidnap a woman for a handsome ransom, to be provided by the woman's rich, overbearing father, Wade Gustafon (Harve Presnell). All is planned by the woman's inept husband, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), who runs a used car business, and is desperate for money. He unfortunately hires some dregs from society in North Dakota, who behave accordingly. Instead of solving his current problems, Jerry finds himself jumping from the frying pan, into the fire, as things don't go as envisioned, but only get worse.

The film's screenplay, by Joel and his brother Ethan, was based on true events. The Coen brothers (director Joel and producer Ethan), who have provided some great filmwork ("Raising Arizona," "Blood Simple") and some misfires ("The Hudsucker Proxy"), have crafted an excellent, if strange, film with "Fargo." After several films of varying degrees of commercial and critical success, "Fargo" finds them in great shape, with one of their best films in years.

"Fargo" is, by turns a wild, unpredictable, funny, violent movie. In some ways, "Fargo" successfully combines elements of "Blood Simple" (violence and murder) and "Raising Arizona (a female cop and kidnapping). Since "Raising Arizona" and "Blood Simple" were their most popular (critically and commercially), it made sense for the Coen brothers to incorporate elements from these films in "Fargo."

"Fargo" pokes fun at Northern mid-western accents and characters. While everyone in this part of the country may not punctuate every other sentence with "yah," the satirical portrayal of these people is good natured, not mean spirited.

Many of the characters in "Fargo" are stupid and violent. This screenplay offers an intelligent study of the behavior of stupid and violent people, and the havoc they bring. Since the film is based on a true story, stupid and violent people are apparently all around us, which is food for thought.

Frances McDormand is delightful as a very pregnant cop, delivering her lines in both a serious and comical manner at the same time. She goes about her job meticulously, able to handle any situation she discovers, with stops out for fast food and a reunion with an old friend from high school, in the middle of it all. She earned the best actress Oscar for her performance.

Two of our favorite scenes are the times when her character is questioning Jerry about the murders, and the fact that the car used in the dastardly deeds was traced to his car lot.

Steve Buscemi shines strongly in his portrayal of Carl Showalter, one of the kidnappers, who is one of the most out of control people in the screenplay. Being both violent and gregarious, his character causes plenty of trouble for everyone. The bug-eyed, snaggle toothed Buscemi is quite the busy character actor, ("Con Air" and "Armageddon"), and writes & directs as well. With "Tree Lounge," he made his directorial debut.

One of the "Fargo's running gags is that a series of witnesses describe Buscemi as "funny looking," without being able to specifically explain why. "What'd this guy look like anyway?" "Oh, he was a little guy, kinda funny lookin'." "Uh-huh. In what way?" "Just a general way."

A favorite action scene takes place when the kidnapped wife's father, Wade Gustafon (Harve Presnell) brings the million dollar ransom, to kidnapper Buscemi. The scene quickly takes a violent, deadly, and unpredictable turn.

William H. Macy is terrific as a car dealer who gets in over his head when a scheme to have his wife kidnapped for money goes very bad. As things go from bad to worse, he can do nothing but helplessly watch and try to squirm out of the scrutiny he finds himself subjected to by the police, and the threats of the men he had hired.

The film's photography, particularly the cold, frigid Minnesota / Fargo exteriors are particularly well lensed. Director of photography Roger Deakins is the responsible party.

This film is rated R for graphic violence, salty language, and some sexual / nudity. While not everyone's cup of tea, it is an excellent example of a modern Noir film, that combines serious drama with comedy.

If you enjoyed FARGO, you may like BLOOD SIMPLE, PANIC, A SIMPLE PLAN, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, BOUND, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, PULP FICTION, and/or RAISING ARIZONA.

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