Thursday, June 11, 2015

AFI Top 100, #84: "Fargo" (1996)

Movie Stats:
Released 1996 (USA)
American & British, in English
Directors - Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars - William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare

Plot Summary:
When hapless car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) hires thugs Carl & Gaear (Buscemi & Stormare) to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrued) in order to swindle money out of his father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell), he unwittingly sets in motion a chain of violence. McDormand co-stars as county sheriff Marge Gunderson, who gets pulled into the investigation.

Extreme violence; gore; lots of blue language; sexy times; very brief nudity (both male and female butt).

Bad Stuff:
My enjoyment of this film has always been tempered by the sadness I feel for Scotty (Tony Denman), the young teenaged Gunderson boy, who lost his mother, father, and grandfather all in one fell swoop. It’s difficult to find any humor in that.

The whole Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) - Marge Gunderson scene is so weird and felt completely out of place within the context of the rest of the movie.

Good Stuff:
I saw this twice before, once before I lived in rural Minnesota and once after. I found it much funnier the second time, after discovering that people really are that nice there and some of them really do talk like that. I enjoyed it even more this time around. There’s a lot of subtle humor that I just didn’t get before. For example, the opening scene, with the epic music playing over a guy driving a car down a snowy road, had me in stitches.

Loved the stark cinematography.

There are a lot of good performances in this. I know Macy and McDormand received a lot of kudos at the time this came out, and I don’t disagree with that, but I also really enjoyed Presnell and Stormare, whose understated portrayals leant a lot of low-key humor to the film.

I like that it features a lot of good, old-fashioned police work.

The Verdict:
I’m a big fan. I was always on the fence about it before. “It’s funny,” I would say, “but not THAT funny.” I was wrong. It is THAT funny, but not in the laugh-out-loud kind of way. It’s also an interesting exploration of human greed, the crux of which is summed up nicely by Marge’s monologue to Gaear at the end of the film. While it’s a black comedy, I find that those typically have a sense of the morbid at its core, whereas this one is actually sad when you pull back all the layers. It’s definitely not a movie you want to watch if you’re at all bothered by violence, but if you can look beyond that, I think you’ll find something interesting here. 

I give it 4.25 stars.


Patricia said...

Apparently the AFI were fans too, as this movie wasn't out for very long before vaulting to #84 on their list.

I can't say I disagree with them.

This is the first movie college boyfriend John and I saw together. He picked it out. "What's it about?" I asked when he told me the title. "You'll like it," he said to me. And I remember thinking he didn't know me well enough to know if I would like a movie or not.

But he was right. I've always loved this movie, despite the formidable amount of senseless violence. Because sure, the world is populated with tons of stupid, shallow, greedy people, but it's also full of people like Marge, who just keep going in the face of all that doesn't make sense. She's one of my favorite characters in 90s cinema.

balyien said...

When I was talking about this movie to a friend, she had a "Is that movie really that old?" moment and I was like "Well, yes. The original AFI Top 100 list was published in 1998, and it came out before that." And then we both had a moment where we pondered how shockingly fast life moves.

Anyway, I agree. Marge is great. I'm glad I gave this movie another chance after originally not being all that big on it.