By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
It’s been years since I’ve seen Fargo, and while I’ve long called it my favorite Coen Brothers film, they’re doing their damndest to give it plenty of competition in the time since. With AMC’s Fargo TV show hitting recently, now was as good a time as any to see if it still wears The Coens Crown.
Fargo is about a Minnesotan businessman (William H. Macy) who hires two criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife, and split the ransom from her rich father. In typical Coens fashion, everything goes to hell from there, and it’s up to a pregnant Brainerd policewoman (Frances McDormand) to unravel the mystery and solve the crime.
The Coen Brothers have made an incredible amount of truly great films, but Fargo may be their most perfect. Every single aspect of its production is a standout example of its respective craft, and the only reason it didn’t win all of the Oscars is that the Academy loves instantly dating itself.
Truly a role that will stand the test of time
It all starts with the script, and the Coens have created another dark comedy of errors, one that is tragic, and hilarious, and thrilling, and thought-provoking, and often several of those at once. Who can forget those accents, the desperate comedy and realism of Jerry Lundegaard’s many attempts at manipulation, or that woodchipper? It’s so good that even seemingly random scenes, like poor Mike Yanagita, drive both plot and characterization in the end.
Mike needs a hug
The acting is all utterly perfect for each part. Macy embodies an obsequious, striving loser who you can’t help feeling sorry for and even rooting for a little, even though on paper he’s the most despicable character in the film. Buscemi is his ratfaced criminal doppelganger, another hapless loser who you kind of feel sorry for as he tries to screw everyone else over. On the other hand, Stormare is a goddam sociopath Terminator, a stone-faced agent of chaos whose dread competence is obvious from the beginning. McDormand is the only one who walked away with an Oscar, though, and her confident and capable but perhaps overly trusting small-town detective was the emotional center of the film and an entirely deserving winner.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins does some of his best work here, which is really saying something considering his incredible career. He beautifully expresses the wide snowy expanses and eccentric small town tics of Northern Minnesota and does some of the crispest, most beautiful nighttime shooting I’ve seen. Carter Burwell’s folksy, almost fairytale score is an enigmatic, but ideal partner for the imagery, getting incredible mileage out of a Norwegian folk song and giving Fargo a timeless, storybook air. The Coens’ direction wraps all of those elements up into one perfect package that just gets better every time you unwrap it.
Their choice of wrapping paper leaves a bit to be desired, though.
Praise doesn’t get much higher than saying that Fargo remains my favorite Coen Brothers film. Well, that or No Country for Old Men, or The Big Lebowski. Wait, what about Miller’s Crossing? Shit.
Take a Drink: for every awkward curseword
Take a Drink: for every Stormare blank stare
Take a Drink: yah, don’t drink when they say “yah” or you’ll die, dontcha know?
Take a Drink: anytime someone’s ridiculously cheerful
Do a Shot: whenever plans go right in the woodchipper
Do a Shot: for creepy as fuck Paul Bunyan