Fargo (1996)



"Three people were killed last night in Brainerd. We're in a load of trouble, Jerry. I'm comin' there tomorrow. You have the money ready by then.""Three people were killed last night in Brainerd. We're in a load of trouble, Jerry. I'm comin' there tomorrow. You have the money ready by then."

“Three people were killed last night in Brainerd. We’re in a load of trouble, Jerry. I’m comin’ there tomorrow. You have the money ready by then.”


If capturing the midwestern accent perfectly down to the cadence and simplistic nature was the main goal in The Coen Brothers Fargo, mission accomplished. This level of detail is to be expected with a screenplay by Joel and Ethan. I wish I counted how many times the word “Yeah” was said – the over under is most likely around 300. It’s a little jarring to get used to and it becomes an earworm, the accent gets tattooed in your brain and every time the word is spoken the accent gets stronger. Accents among others proves how much of a perfectionist duo the Coen Brothers are when it comes to their films. Everything and every one of their characters have a purpose and is accounted for. 

Even with a basic leaning premise, Joel and Ethan’s screenplay is airtight – every plotline that springs up has a beginning, middle and conclusion that ultimately gives Fargo a sense of finality when all is said and done. It’s the type of crime story that isn’t necessarily original but it’s the characters and events that are loosely based on true events that gives Fargo its uniqueness.

Fargo is claimed to be a true story, but the lines are so blurred its hard what to believe when Joel and Ethan speak about it. According to the opening text, Fargo is based on true events, but much can be proven that this is a fictional account where everything is made up. Of course, these types of sinister actions that Jerry Lundengaard (William H. Macy) committed may exist – who knows, there are sketchy and desperate people out there willing to go to great lengths to pay off their mountains of debt. Jerry’s solution in his head (at least) is foolproof. Hiring Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud) for ransom money looks to be Jerry’s only way out. And the moment the stolen Oldsmobile is exchanged in Fargo, North Dakota Jerry’s plan unravels. 

“”No”. That’s the first thing you’ve said in the last four hours. That’s a fountain of conversation there, buddy. That’s a geyser.”

What makes Fargo so mesmerizing is the steady levels of anticipation and tenseness that is built from one scene to the next. It’s something Joel and Ethan excel at among most things with their films. Fargo isn’t a deep philosophical story that requires someone’s undivided attention – it’s a simple story, but it’s the way each scene is constructed that grabs hold making it impossible to look away. What will happen next? Its literally a coin toss when dealing with unpredictable antagonists. Every action that Carl and Gaear take fits their M.O. Gaear at first appearing silent and uninterested becomes a loose cannon cleaning up Carl’s mess. He’s such a brutal and imposing figure whereas Carl is more of a con-artist who thinks he’s slick but in reality, his bark is bigger than his bite. 

None of the characters have any real development to write home about each and every one is a shallow example of the archetype that’s created. Regardless of any character personality, the journey that is set in motion makes for a compelling film. You want to see how things play out for the sake of being entertained. It’s a journey that has a lot of twists and turns but with each twist that comes it can be seen as a natural progression with how things turn out. Most of the twists are a product of the gruesome violence that Gaear and Carl are involved with. It can be left up to interpretation but Fargo, is a character study about cause and effect. 

What Jerry causes in his poorly thought-out plan effects everyone around him. From his son Scotty (Tony Denman) to his father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell) Jerry sets off a path of destruction that could have been totally avoided. Wade’s story gets wrapped up more than Scotty’s does since Wade plays a larger role in Jerry’s plan. But why couldn’t Jerry just ask Wade outright for the money? Pride and ego get in the way of that from happening. 

Fargo does well with its tones and how they are all balanced. The dark humor the Coen’s posses is juxtaposed by the suspense that has been built up from the opening interaction. Certain interactions are paced better than others but overall Fargo is a well placed thriller that never stays too long on a particular scene. Joel and Ethan’s screenplay is nearly bulletproof – the brothers lose a little grasp on things when Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) meets up with a former classmate. This entire scene doesn’t add any value to the story but is used as a break in narrative.

Fargo isn’t a happy story – it’s world is inhabited by those who are most desperate for their own self gain. Joel and Ethan find a comfort in these characters they create. What foreshadows the tone early for this story of bottom feeders is Carter Burwell’s solemn score – it sets the mood and non-verbally let’s the viewer know what kind of film this is. The plot set up by Joel and Ethan is cut and dry giving the impression of a grounded story – everything that happens is believable to the characters motivations. When Jerry’s plan begins to unravel Joel and Ethan never lose a step, every twist plays out to the extent that it happens.

I guesse you think you’re… you know, like an authority figure, with that stupid f***in’ uniform. King clip-on-tie there, big f***in’ man. You know these are the limits of your life, man! The rule of your little f***in’ gate here!”

Among the characters only one sticks out the most – Marge Gunderson. Tasked with investigating the bloody trail caused by Carl (who if he had the plates on the Oldsmobile none of this would happen) and carried out by Gaear, it doesn’t take much for Marge to follow the breadcrumbs left by the antagonists. Frances shines in her performance as the 7-month pregnant sheriff. William H. Macy comes close with his performance as Jerry – with each scene his desperation spirals more and more out of control. 

Fargo is a great example of a perfectly constructed plan that goes entirely wrong. What Joel and Ethan set up in Fargo is fully realized and carefully constructed screenplay. From Roger Deakins profound cinematography to the creepy score by Carter Burwell, Fargo is nothing short of perfection by two perfectionists. Every plotline is handled with care that is fully carried out with no stone left unturned. Frances McDormand gives an outstanding performance among some basic characters that were written even when the characters don’t take anything away from the final product. 4.5 out of 5. 

So, tell me, have you seen Fargo and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

Fargo is written & directed by Joel and Ethan Coen is Rated R and has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Fargo was released on March 8, 1996 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 38 minutes. Fargo can be bought by online retailers including iTunes, Amazon & Google. 


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