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For, Friday, March 2, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: In keeping with the Oscar theme on this page, here’s a favorite that recently received a boutique upgrade from the Shout! Factory, a new Blu-ray release in steelbook packaging. ‘Fargo’ was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two, for best screenplay by the Coen brothers and for Frances McDormand as best actress. The review below was published in the Deseret News on March 29, 1996. And although, as you’ll see, I naively took the credits at their word, ‘Fargo’ is NOT a true story.

"Fargo" is a Coen brothers film, and it's as eccentric as all get-out … if that's not redundant.

Those familiar with their films know what to expect from Joel and Ethan Coen, who write, produce and direct together, though Joel gets directing credit and Ethan is credited as producer.

For "Fargo," however, think "Blood Simple" instead of "Raising Arizona" or "The Hudsucker Proxy." Like "Blood Simple," this one is in film noir territory and it's quite violent in places.

A dark drama, with an odd comic sensibility, "Fargo" is a true story, set in the Midwest during the harsh winter of 1987. A simple kidnapping is planned in Fargo, N.D., but when it goes awry, all kinds of complications develop for those involved and those investigating.

The central character, who isn't introduced until we're a quarter or so into the movie, is Sheriff Marge Gunderson, of Brainerd, Minn. Seven months pregnant, though she doesn't let it slow her down one bit, Marge is amiable and easygoing, and meant to represent the Midwestern mindset, as interpreted by the Coens. And she's a wonderfully human character, perfectly suited to and played wonderfully by character actress Frances McDormand (who is married to Joel Coen).


                     Frances McDormand, 'Fargo'

Responding with "You betcha" and "Yer darned tootin' " to just about everything she hears, Marge is forthright, sensible and no-nonsense in her approach to a gruesome murder investigation, and, for that matter, just about everything else she encounters.

There is a great deal of comedy that springs from Marge, and one could argue that she embodies a stereotype that Midwesterners might not favor. But I found her quite charming and she provides a warmth that is most endearing.

By contrast, the violent goons (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) who set off the murder plot — characters who are dopey and funny in their own right, though in a much darker sense — are hired by a hapless car dealer (William H. Macy) in Minneapolis. He wants his wife kidnapped and held for a ransom, which will be paid by his wealthy father-in-law (Harve Presnell), and then he and the kidnappers are to split the money.

But the kidnappers wind up killing a state trooper in Brainerd, which leads to Marge's involvement — and the killers' eventual downfall. Meanwhile, the car dealer is becoming more and more psychotic as things unravel, and it doesn't help that his father-in-law is used to taking charge of tough situations and insists on dealing with the kidnappers himself.


The plotting is complex and the film does make a few false steps, including some gags that are not quite as successful at bridging the lighter comedy and the more grim satire as the Brothers Coen would like. There's also an odd, out-of-place and somewhat intrusive subplot about a former high-school acquaintance that calls Marge out of the blue and has problems of his own.

Still, most of the way, "Fargo" is funny, frightening and pointed in its explorations of human behavior. It's also wittily conceived, artistically directed and loaded with hilarious anecdotal sequences.

In other words, fans of the Coen Brothers will not be disappointed.

"Fargo" is deservedly rated R for violence, some gore, sex and nudity, and profanity.