Sunday 26 September 2010


It’s a long time since I watched Fargo – so long that I ddn’t remember much except that I enjoyed it, and especially admired Frances McDormand as the heavily pregnant cop who is far and away the most appealing character in the film. So I took another look at it, and enjoyed it all over again.

It’s a Coen brothers movie, a darkly funny thriller. The starting point is that an inadequate car dealer, splendidly played by William H. Macy, is in deep financial trouble. His wife comes from a wealthy family, but his father in law keeps a tight grip on the purse strings. So he comes up with a cunning plan. He will hire a crook to kidnap his wife, pocket half the ransom, and get her back safe and sound. Easy.

Of course, it all goes belly-up. The crook brings along an associate, taciturn and – as it turns out – sociopathic. The kidnap is botched, and before long the sociopath turns violent, killing a cop and a couple of witnesses. This is where McDormand’s character is introduced, and her dogged detective work leads her to the car dealership. The father-in-law agrees to keep the kidnap secret, but the handover of the ransom goes disastrously wrong.

There are some grim moments in this film, but it’s oddly uplifting, because of the straightforward likability of McDormand and her husband, and their pleasure at the prospect of the birth of their child. There are many vivid images of small-town America in this film. Fargo has a high reputation, and deservedly so. It was one of the best crime movies of the 90s.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed Fargo. Thanks for reminding me of it. I agree that McDormand's performance is memorable. I actually liked William H. Macy, too, in that film. Time for me to rent that one again!

seana graham said...

I think it was a bit overhyped for me at the time. But it's probably worth a second look now.

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Fully agree with you Martin, one of the best movies of the 90's.

Janet O'Kane said...

I don't have to seek this one out on the TV because I have the DVD - it's one of my all-time favourite movies. I hope your blog encourages anyone who hasn't seen it to do so (and any other early Coen Brothers work).
A few years ago I did a Film Studies AS level course at a local school. One of my essays was about Fargo, comparing Marge with Hercule Poirot!

Deb said...

In an essay Roger Ebert wrote just after Gene Siskel died (if you didn't get Siskel & Ebert's show in England, they were the pre-eminent movie critics of the 1990s), Ebert recounted this story: The two men were at a preview of "Fargo" and, as was their usual custom, they sat far away from each other. Usually, they did not talk to each other after they'd seen a movie together, but right after "Fargo" ended, Siskel approached Ebert and said, "Movies like this are the reason I love my job."

I'd like to make one more note about the movie--the scene involving the former classmate who tells a long story about his marriage to a woman who died of leukemia. Marge later learns the man lied about everything and that makes her realize she might be too gullible and so the next day she returns to the car dealership to re-interview William H. Macy. A very subtle thing, perfectly done.

aguja said...

Thank you for recommending this film; another to add to the list of 'films to watch' during winter evenings.

Anonymous said...

For an east coast/west coast/ southern American, the flat mid-western accent, especially as delivered by McDormand and Macy was right on target and made the movie even more hilarious. (I am a New Englander).

The people in the middle pride themselves on their taciturnity (they don't waste words while the rest of the country uses ten words when two will do). The Coen brothers got that down perfectly.

As an aside, Steve Buscemi, the funny looking little guy, is now the main character in a new television series on HBO entitled "Boardwalk". This series is about Atlantic City (the gambling capital before Las Vegas) in the 20's just as Prohibition is becoming the law. HBO is the cable channel that gave the world the Sopranos. Back in his "Fargo" days no one would have predicted that a very expensive and historically authenic series would have been built around Buscemi.


Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting comments, thank you. Deb, yes, an astute point.
I didn't appreciate the point about accents, Murderbytype. Thanks again.