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Movie Review - Fargo (1996)

By Edited Jul 22, 2016 1 1

“Fargo” is based loosely on a true story, and was written, produced and directed by the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan.  Frances McDormand, who is Joel Coen’s wife, by the way, was cast as Marge Gunderson, the Chief of Police in a small town outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The character Marge was seven months pregnant at the time the events occurred and in which she was heavily involved.

                                                           

Frances McDormand

                                                                    France McDormand                                                                                                                                                 Wikimedia

Introduction

Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) was an executive in his father-in-law’s car dealership organization, and had some serious financial problems, partially caused by his misappropriation of some funds belonging to the company.  He consulted with an ex-con named Proudfoot who worked in the repair shop at the dealership, and who had connections with the type of people Jerry wanted to engage.  He cooked up a plan to have Proudfoot’s two low-life friends, named Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Grimsrud (Peter Stormare), kidnap Jerry’s wife, which would cause his father-in-law, Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell), a millionaire, to come up with the ransom of $80,000, which the kidnappers would then split with Jerry.  In reality, Jerry planned to tell his father-in-law that the kidnapper’s asking price was one million dollars.  He also planned secretly to throw in a new Oldsmobile Ciera for their efforts.  Jerry had to take a trip to Fargo, North Dakota to meet with the two nefarious characters. 

                                                           

William H. Macy

                                                                        William H. Macy                                                                                                                                                   Wikimedia

Jerry’s Wife is Kidnapped

The kidnappers lived up to their part of the bargain and were successful in taking Jerry’s wife from her home, tying her up and putting her in the back seat of their car, blindfolded.  It is cold in Minnesota, and the viewer could experience the chill when the men headed for their hideout near Brainerd, Minnesota.  The viewers are able to catch two separate views of the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in the vicinity of Brainerd, its claim to fame.  Unfortunately, the perpetrators were stopped by a state trooper who noticed the dealer’s plates; Showalter did not get the tags for them.  He was sure he could handle the situation.  When the trooper asked Showalter to step outside the car, the trigger-happy Grimsrud shot him dead on the spot.  While they attempted to move the body to the side of the road in the freezing cold, a car spotted their actions and swiftly turned around.  They had no choice but to speed after the witnesses, and do away with them also.

                                               

Paul Bunyan Statue

                                              Statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox                                                                                                                         Wikimedia

Marge Takes Charge

Marge Gunderson appeared at the highway scene where three bodies were left out in the cold.  As she goes through her paces, the audience is charmed by the mid-western accents that are part of the culture of the Swedish heritage in Minnesota.  The easy-going familiarity which is bred in the nature of people in that locale comes across beautifully.  The Coen brothers should be applauded for accentuating this characteristic of the area where they themselves grew up.  

The Plan is Changed

When Jerry told his father-in-law that the kidnappers wanted their money, Wade Gustafson insisted on meeting the culprits himself, rather than let Jerry make the exchange.  Jerry was disturbed by the change in plans but could not do anything about it.  Wade went to meet Showalter in a parking garage, but refused to give up the money before his daughter was turned over to him.  He was carrying a gun with him and took a shot at Showalter which hit him in the jaw.  Showalter shot Wade Gustafson and ran off with the suitcase.  That makes a total of four bodies - so far.  Jerry arrived at the scene after Showalter left, and put his father-in-law’s body in the trunk of his car.

                                           

Steve Buscemi

                                                               Steve Buscemi - Wikimedia

Showalter Returns to the Hideout

Showalter drove to a lonely spot and opened the suitcase, realizing for the first time that he had one million dollars in his possession, rather than the $80,000 which he had expected.  He removed the $80,000 which he planned to share with Grimsrud, and buried the suitcase in the deep snow, leaving a marker to which he could return.  When he reached the hideout with the new Ciera, he learned that Grimsrud had killed Jerry’s wife.  The two men quarreled over the fact that Showalter insisted on keeping the car for himself because he did all the work.  Grimrud shot Showalter.  That makes a total of six bodies.  The matter-of-fact manner in which all of this mayhem was committed prevented this film from being difficult to watch.  Instead, it was clearly done with tongue-in-cheek, actually putting a smile on the viewer’s face at some crucial points in the script which could have come across as gruesome.

Marge Wraps It Up

For instance, when Marge Gunderson caught up with Grimrud by spotting the dealer’s Ciera from the road, she was able to catch Grimrud at the wood-chopping machine feeding the last of Showalter’s foot in the machine.  At that point, no viewer was ready to faint.  The Ciera also allowed Marge to connect Jerry Lundegaard with the killers to wrap up the loose ends of her case.

                 

The Coen Brothers

                                          The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan - Wikimedia

The Coen Brothers and Their Families

The Brothers Coen, Joel and Ethan, have established a reputation of idiosyncracy as well as vision in the field of filmmaking.  When they work together on a film, one may take the directing credit while the other is billed as the producer.  Their debut film was “Blood Simple” in 1984, which received positive reviews.

When their film “Fargo” came along in 1996, the brothers shared the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and Frances McDormand, Joel’s wife, won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role as the Chief of Police in the film.  The Coens have a habit of blending bungled crime with warped comedy which has great appeal to the American public.

Ethan Coen is the younger brother by three years.  After graduating from college, the men combined their efforts to write screenplays.  Ethan is married to Tricia Cooke who works as a film editor on many of the Coen Brothers’ films.  Ethan and Tricia have two children.

Frances McDormand was born in Chicago, IL in 1957 and was raised by her adoptive parents.  Because her father was a minister, they moved around a lot, but finally settled in Pittsburgh, Pa.  She graduated from Bethany College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater, and then went on to get a Master’s Degree in Drama at Yale University.  Frances made her screen debut, along with the Coen Brothers, in their film “Blood Simple” in 1984, and married the director, Joel Coen, that same year, and has racked up a successful career as an actress ever since.  She and Joel have one child.

I have followed this family in their stunning career since the very beginning, and always look forward to their latest release.  The brothers have another one for us, entitled “Hail, Caesar,” which debuts the first week of February 2016.

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15 Months of Winter: My Year in North Dakota
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Comments

Feb 4, 2016 11:56am
HLesley
Nice review. This was an interesting and quirky movie. I really enjoyed it.
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Bibliography

  1. "Joel Coen and Ethan Coen." Coenesque. 4/02/2016. 4/02/2016 <Web >
  2. "Frances McDormand Biography." starpulse. 04/02/2016. 4/02/2016 <Web >

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