Sunday 10 July 2005

Fargo (1996) - ickleReview (DVD)


Wacky crime story written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a car salesman from deep in the American Mid-West, needs to finance a real estate venture but can't borrow the money off his rich father-in-law. He arranges for his own wife to be kidnapped by two quirky crooks: watermouth Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and mute Gaear Grimsrud (Swedish stage actor Peter Stormare). Their getaway is botched when they are pulled over by a State Trooper who spots they still have dealer plates on their stolen car. Gaear cracks and it turns into a messy multiple homicide.

Soon, seven-month pregnant local police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is assigned to the case, woken early in the morning with one of those bedside phone calls that I've only seen happen in movies and on TV. (Don't put the phone by your bed!) Nature artist stay-at-home hubby, Norm (John Carroll LynchJohn Carroll LynchJohn Carroll LynchJohn Carroll LynchJohn Carroll Lynch), gets up too to make her some eggs for breakfast.

SPOILER WARNING! The opening titles claim this is a "true story". You kinda buy into that, but realize the Coens are doing things in their quirky way. The movie's set in North Dakota and Minnesota, where 1.4 million Swedes emigrated and speak kinda funny. There are a lot of "Yah"s in this movie. To a Britisher, it feels like they're being made fun of; but according to the "Minnesota Nice" documentary on the extra features of this special edition DVD, it's more affectionate than malicious (the Coens are from the Twin Cities themselves). In most other filmmakers' hands, this graphically violent material would be repulsive, encapsulating all that is grim about America and its self-portrayal on the silver screen. But here the body disposal in a woodchipper and the gushing head of a blank range shot cop is Fargo farcical.

The quaintness of the dialogue, the weird little mannerisms, the general laid-back attitude of the whole place, as the people just plod along with their lives, shows a side of smalltown American that is usually hidden. Occasionally we catch a glimpse of it in films such as David Lynch's The Straight Story (1999) or Harmony Korine's Gummo (1997 - admittedly a bit weirder and more disturbing, trailing out the freaks that hide in the backwaters). Everyone in the towns of Fargo and Brainerd is just so nice (or so it seems). Where does this violence come from? It's almost a relief to discover that it's not after all based on real events which supposedly took place in 1967. You can imagine it happening, though, thanks to movies such as Monster and Natural Born Killers and just about everything else out there that makes violence quotidian. The Coens just made it up and stuck on the abused "based on a true story" tag to see if they could get away with it, if the audiences would buy it - and they do (so sorry if this has spoilt it for you, but I did warn you. Twice. And anyway, you should have seen this by now. Where were you already?).

Nugget: one of the Coen brothers' finest, yah, but kinda funny lookin', in a general sort of way.

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