Feb 11, 2011

[Movies] Fargo (1996)

Fargo (1996)It's hard to ignore movies that get noticed during the Academy Awards - in this regard one could definitely state that it's truly an honor just to be nominated. It's inevitable - in order for the average movie-goer to make an informed opinion about the nominees and who should win, you really need to go watch the movies. And thus many movie fans, including myself, find themselves experimenting with movies outside their typical preferred genres in order to see what the fuss is all about.

While I'm really not a fan of horror movies, I am able to push myself occasionally in order to experience the occasional suspense / thriller piece here and there. I guess I can blame my mother in this department since she tends to watch a lot of these kinds of stories. Thus on an off-tangent from my "mainstream" geek interests, I'm also a big fan of the Sigourney Weaver classic Copycat, which still gives me the willies until today.

This is another movie that I really grew to appreciate despite how gruesome and violent some of the scenes are. It probably helps that it's actually more of a dark comedy than just a thriller piece, at least in my opinion. Seriously, can anyone cast Steve Buscemi without it becoming some sort of a comedy?

Coen Brothers at Cannes in 2001.Image via WikipediaFargo is the 1996 dark comedy crime movie brought to life by the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards of which it won for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress in a Leading Role.

The story begins with car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hiring two thugs (Steve Buschemi and Peter Stormare) at Fargo, North Dakota to stage a kidnapping of his wife. Payment comes in the form of a new car and half of the $80,000 ransom that they're to demand for her safe release. However, Jerry has his own plans of trying to fleece his father-in-law (Harve Presnell) by asking for a much higher sum while giving the goons Carl and Gaear the paltry sum of $40,000.

While the two are able to kidnap Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) with relative ease, a routine pullover by a state trooper goes awry and thus disrupting all their plans. Gaear shoots the trooper dead and eventually chases down a passing motorist who witnessed Carl dragging the body off the road. the next day, the deaths are investigated by the local police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDorman), who also happens to be pregnant. She's a highly skilled investigator who quickly pieces together the events of the previous night and is soon on the trail of the killers. All the while, Jerry continues in his attempts to get Wade, his father-in-law, to pay the ransom without police involvement.

The movie has a slower yet very deliberate pace in terms of how it goes about telling the story. But the pacing fits the slower small town life of Marge and the rest as the whole piece eventually builds up to the crescendo which is exciting without needing to be overly action-packed. That's not exactly easy to execute - and I say this even given other Coen movies that clearly tried to recapture that feel but fell a tad short. Still, this movie was certainly a masterpiece in its own right and I'm not at all surprised that it got nominated for Best Picture given how things all came together.

One could argue that this is more of an ensemble movie and to argue that there were lead actors and actresses may seem folly. But regardless, there's no question that William H. Macy and Frances McDormand both put up a stellar performance and were essential to the story coming out as well as it did.

But I have to admit that McDormand really stood out for me compared to everyone else. Her character was definitely a challenge to portray well - how many pregnant police chiefs do you know who happen to be both laid back yet keenly alert? I felt she managed to capture a lot of what we assume about small town folks but at the same time won our respect with her deductive reasoning skills and her ability to put together disparate pieces of information and other clues.

The plot may be a tad difficult to follow at times, especially as one can't help but get distracted by anything that comes out of Steve Buschemi's mouth. But amidst the violence, the unusual accents specific to the region and a lot of pregnancy-related eating, things just start to fall into place until you're left on the edge of your seat wondering how it's all going to turn out. And I doubt anyone could have accurately predicted the end of the movie apart from the hope that Marge catches the two goons and that Jerry gets what he deserves in the end.

Fargo remains one of my favorite movies despite its darker tone and I'm glad that I got to revisit it recently in order to introduce my partner to the movie. It gets a full 5 hacked up body parts in a wood chipper out of a possible 5. You can get a copy of the movie in DVD or Blu-ray format online or via your preferred local retailer.

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