(dir. Joel Coen, scr. Joel & Ethan Coen,
starring Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi)
[Melody Maker, 1996]
NOTHING LOOKS QUITE so dramatic as blood on snow. It's a wonder film makers don't use it more often. Since the crime thriller became the hot genre in the movies, we've seen gallons of blood erupting onto walls, floors, mirrors, carpets, curtains, shirts, suits, cars, roads, pavements, but snow has been foolishly negelcted.
Minnesota in the dead of winter being a three-dimensional, 360 degree whiteout, the temptation to splash some blood around it must be well-nigh unendurable. And as the Minnesotans themselves are, by and large, an orderly, decent and amiable bunch, that makes it all the more shocking when they do.
Fargo is the tale of a plan gone horribly wrong, of idiotic would-be criminals, insane gunsels, dogged cops and spiralling violence. Nothing there to distinguish it from the horde of post- Reservoir Dogs flicks, but I assure you, you have seen nothing like this. Fargo is different and thoroughly superior.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H Macy), a hapless car salesman, is browbeaten by his in-laws and desperate for money. He's just bright enough to concoct a hare-brained scheme to fake his wife's kidnapping, and dumb enough to believe that it might work. One look at his chosen conspirators and you know that disaster can only follow. Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) are a pair of moronic small-time hoods who might have escaped from the pen of Elmore Leonard if they didn't lack the wits to escape from a paper bag.
Of course, it all goes wrong. Not only is Jerry completely out of his depth, so are the hired kidnappers, and so, indeed, are the police. All except for Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), chatty, competent and heavily pregnant chief of the local force. When the extortion plot swiftly and inevitably comes to grief and takes three lives with it, she tracks down the villains with a good-natured determination as plain and unmelodramatic as their goofy savagery.
For the famously flashy Coen brothers, this is a radical change. Naturalism is a style in itself, and they have mastered it instantly. Fargo grips with a hundred tiny teeth. It's a thriller in the literal sense of the word, and without question one of the best films you'll have the chance to see this year.
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