movie film review | chris tookey


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  Fargo Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
9.10 /10
Marge Gunderson .......... Frances McDormand (AAW, LONDON CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD - BEST ACTRESS), Jerry Lundegaard ......... William H. Macy
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Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Released: 1996
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 97

Crime doesn’t pay. At all.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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A financially embarrassed car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) arrives an hour late for an appointment - not with a potential customer, but with two sleazy hoodlums-for-hire (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare). Jerry commissions them to kidnap his wife (Kristin Rudrud). His plan is to get a million dollars ransom money from his rich, ruthless father-in-law (Harve Presnell), give the gangsters $40,000 and keep the other $960,000 for himself. The trouble is that Jerry is a poor liar, much too easily dominated, and so incompetent that, when the kidnapping is no longer a financial necessity, he can't call off the crooks because he doesn't know their phone number. One of the gangsters he's hired (Buscemi) is panicky. The other (Stormare) is a psychopath. Virtually everything that might go wrong, duly does; and a crime which starts out as mean and pathetic becomes brutal and bloody, as potent a warning not to get mixed up in criminality as any Home Secretary might wish.

Fargo is a very cool, very black comedy set in the very white wastes of northern Minnesota. It's about a crime gone so hideously wrong that it might have sprung from the brain of Quentin Tarantino, a variation on the old homily which used to be instilled in children by their parents - that small lies have a nasty habit of having to be disguised by bigger ones, until you become enmeshed in a web of your own lies. William H. Macy gives a sensational performance, funny but also sad, as a weak but not intrinsically evil man entangled in just such a waking nightmare.

Equally impressive, in the role of crime-fighter, is Frances McDormand, who probably won the part through being married to director Joel Coen, but also happens to be one of America's finest screen actresses. Here she plays a decent, hard-working cop who - despite being heavily pregnant, eating for two and stopping off to buy worms for fisherman-artist husband Norm - solves the case through old-fashioned detection and persistence.

Not even Columbo treated witnesses with this much respect. You get the sense of a woman whose perspective on criminal behaviour is limited and uncomprehending, yet she is so fundamentally decent and grounded in common sense that she's immediately sympathetic. The performance is a delight, and so is the character.

Another pleasure is the Coen brothers' detailed observation of their own roots in Minnesota, which has the same quirky affection as Bill Forsyth's early films about Scotland. It's the kind of place, full of first-generation Americans, where English is spoken with the lilting accents of the Muppets' Swedish chef. The first impulse is to laugh at these people's banality. Then you warm to their normality, their competence, their innate kindliness.

The Coens' films tend to be underplotted and anti-climactic. This time, real events from 1987 have presented them with an extraordinary yarn, full of narrative twists to the end. Even more surprising is the fact that this moral tale comes from filmmakers as cool as the Coen Brothers, who previously brought us such hip, affectionate homages to criminality as Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple and Raising Arizona.

The bad language and gruesomeness are justified within the context, and this is the Coens' most generous-spirited film. It won the London Critics' awards for Best Film, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenwriter.

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