For, Aug. 22, 2014

The Coen Brothers' "Fargo" (1996, R) has become one of their most popular, most famous and most iconic films over the past 18 years. Which is to say, "Fargo" is quintessential Coen Brothers, if there is such a thing, since filmmakers jump from genre to genre.

There was even a cable TV series titled "Fargo" earlier this year that somehow managed to capture the essence, the quirky sense of humor and offbeat noir sensibility of the film in a surprisingly clever way, although it featured none of the same characters.

Set in the winter of 1987, "Fargo" the movie opens claiming to be a true story (it's not) about a simple kidnapping in Fargo, North Dakota, that goes awry and sets into motion a string of events that circle back to wreak havoc on a number of participants — most of them not terribly innocent.

But at the center is seven-months pregnant Marge Gunderson (played wonderfully by Frances McDormand, who earned an Oscar). She is the sheriff of Brainerd, Minnesota, and her warm, amiable, easygoing demeanor (she responds to everyone with "You betcha" or "Yer darned tootin' ") causes the criminals here to underestimate her tenacity. Marge will get to the bottom of things.


        Frances McDormand won an Oscar aas a sheriff in 'Fargo'

Surrounding her are a circle of Midwestern bizarros, each with his own agenda, and, as is the Coen brothers' wont, every character is perfectly cast.

William H. Macy is the hapless car salesman who sets things in motion, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are the violent goons he hires, Harve Presnell is Macy's overconfident father-in-law, and several smaller roles are also handled with aplomb.


        William H. Macy is an unraveling car salesman in 'Fargo'

And no one who sees the film will ever forget the wood-chipper sequence. You've been warned.

By the time "Fargo" came around, the Coen Brothers — Ethan and Joel — had already made "Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink" and "The Hudsucker Proxy," and still to come were "The Big Lebowski," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," "The Man Who Wasn't There," "Intolerable Cruelty," "The Ladykillers," "No Country For Old Men," "Burn After Reading," "A Serious Man," "True Grit" and "Inside Llewyn Davis."

And although several of these films can be categorized as films noir, and all of them in one form or another can be considered satires or comedies of a very dark order, no two are really the same. For good or ill (and their merits, of course, may be argued), each is a very different film … and yet there is something identifiable about the unique Coen Brothers' stamp.

Still, however you may rank the Coens' movies on a personal, reactionary level, "Fargo" is bound to float to the surface, at least in the top two or three, if not No. 1.

You can catch "Fargo" on the big screen at the Tower Theater in the 9th and 9th Distict on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 22 and 23, at 11 p.m., and on Sunday, Aug. 24, at noon.