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Released: May 31st 1996 (UK)

Directors: The Coen Brothers

Stars: William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi

Certificate: 18 (UK)

Reviewer: Saahil Dama

It’s a pity, really. Movies having a cast of relative unknowns of the industry, which make up for their lack of publicity with a superb storyline more often than not remain buried it the DVD archives titled ‘no one cares’ while films starring the big-wigs, with their six-packs or saving the world antics sell like reindeer training manuals in Antartica. Unfortunately, Fargo falls dead-centre in the former neglected category, which made the satisfaction of successfully excavating for it equivalent to finding a brick of pure gold.

Fargo keeps all pretensions aside. It is a simplistic, home-spun, small-town dark comedy-crime film and it doesn’t try to be anything else. The story is almost insultingly simple. A slightly eccentric, paranoid car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William Macy) is facing an acute financial crisis. He meets two criminals, Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare), and cuts a deal with them – they will kidnap his wife for him in return for which Jerry offers them a car and half of the $80,000 ransom he plans to mooch off his rich, antagonistic father in law, who also happens to be his boss. They kidnap her successfully but the coup soon goes awry resulting in messy deaths, a pregnant policewoman (Frances McDormand) coming on the prowl and big mouthed hookers giving away vital information.

While the film could have gone the stereotypical comedy-chaos way with all the involved characters involved, it doesn’t disappoint you. Writers-Directors Ethan Coen and Joel Coen stick to their guns. They slide the humour aside, though not neglecting it, while focusing entirely on development of the characters and the story. Fargo can be termed as a sitcom because most of the comedy is derived from the situations the characters, and especially Jerry, find themselves in. Jerry is absolutely inept at crime and is in no way prepared to deal with things as they begin snowballing out of hand. His absolute incompetence at controlling things is satirically proven by the fact that he can’t ask the kidnappers to call off the job when things get awry since he doesn’t have their phone numbers.

The film doesn’t have a single protagonist, but the four important characters who share much of the screen time are all memorable, if not endearing. All the people involved are well-rounded, making them seem extremely close to real-life. Macy the Underrated is just splendid as the depressed and economically challenged Jerry. He isn’t a bad guy, but is more simply a case of good guys resorting to unethical tactics due to desperation. A single scene where Jerry tries removing frozen ice from his car’s windshield after a disappointing meeting illustrates the above mentioned fact; he isn’t evil, just frustrated. Being a common man compelled to do wicked stuff, you pity him despite secretly laughing at his misery.

The two criminals are a study in contrast. Carl pretends to be the gregarious cool-guy who thinks he has everything in control, even if he knows things are going way out of hand. He does things that Gaear doesn’t appreciate, like talk a lot, which makes him a classic case of the proverbial barking dogs seldom bite. Gaear is usually silent, but he proves to be the deadly when it comes to it. Despite being the brooding one, he makes many of the dangerous decisions that have to be made, like cold-bloodedly killing a cop followed by chasing down two kids who saw him kill the cop and shooting them too. A moment where their television doesn’t work and their differing reactions perfectly highlights the stark difference between Carl and Gaear. The latter seems to be inspired from Sal in Dog Day Afternoon and it’s only towards the end that you realize just how disturbed he is.

While the policewoman, Marge Gunderson, and her yet unborn baby barely look like a match for these demented men, she does have the benefit of intelligence on her side. Unlike the others, she doesn’t believe in complicating things and with a clever combination of reason and deduction is able to take them on quite easily. Yet, the bulging belly doesn’t give her the supercop feel, which makes her more life-like. Despite being the only woman in the midst of this chaos, McDormand carries her role of a faithful police-officer with ease, making you believe that you can trust her. She quite rightfully deserved the Academy Award for her neat performance.

It is the nonchalance and the simplicity of the movie that makes it such a real-life experience; a thing the movie even boasts of being. Even the details, like the conversational dialogues and the speaking accents are paid close attention to. The actors don’t exceed the precincts of their roles, the drama is not overdone, the darkness isn’t depressing and the comedy comes with the flow; giving a heart-warmingly authentic feel to Fargo. The film maintains a taut pace throughout, ending in a brilliant and bloody crescendo.

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