“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
For me, the opening script of “Fargo” (1996) reads much like the opening script of “Star Wars” (1977), and that film’s subsidiaries, reads for its millions of fans. It’s my perfect film, the one on which I base all my subsequent cinematic experiences.
The most fascinating aspect of “Fargo” is how much it perplexes me. I admire it for all the reasons everyone does: the perfectly written dialogue, the bizarre sense of humor, the sympathetically inept characters, Marge and Norm Gunderson, the human elements juxtaposed with acts of violence, and the fascinating character arcs; yet I’m not entirely sure why I love it so much more and why it sticks in my brain as one of my fundamental cinematic experiences.
“Fargo” is the story of Jerry Lundegaard’s (William H. Macy) plan to have his wife kidnapped so he can collect ransom money from his wealthy father-in-law. He hires two criminals: fast-talking Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and pancake-loving Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare). Due to careless errors, the kidnapping ultimately goes wrong resulting in the murder of a police officer and two innocent bystanders.
The plot is relatively straightforward. The cinematography is striking but not flashy. The acting is excellent. But I've said similar things about underwhelming films.
The beauty of “Fargo” lies in the whole. There aren’t many standout moments (even though everyone remembers the wood-chipper), but as a whole the Coens created one of the most complete and exquisite stories in cinema history. The ever-present mordant comedy; the near-perfect filmmaking; the wonderful and wicked characters; and the presence of a complete, not-entirely-cynical story arc reveal filmmakers at their most vulnerable and interesting. The film is one that will surely grow more relevant with every passing year.
A Few Notes:
- I considered just writing a review that consisted solely of 50 or so quotes from the movie. I probably would have ended up with something better.
- Another admirable aspect of “Fargo” that has come more into light in recent years is the expanding universe. The incredible success of the TV show based on the movie is the main component of the growing universe (or Fargoverse as Scott Tobias coined in his New York Times reviews for the TV show). But the recent release “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” (2015) is another example of just how far the mythology has reached.
- In light of recent Oscar nominations, a great way to realize how irrelevant the awards are is to look at the Coens’ filmography. “Fargo” lost this year (although it did win screenplay and Frances McDormand won Best Supporting Actress). More about the irrelevance of the Oscars when we eventually get to “Inside Llewyn Davis”.
- I love “Fargo”. I hope that came across in this jumbled review.