DEEP FOCUS: Fargo
Since their debut in 1984, The Coen Brothers have been two of the most interesting writer-directors of offbeat genre cinema and their 1996 black crime-comedy Fargo remains one of their very best works.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a passive-aggressive car salesman who travels to Fargo, North Dakota to hire two lowlife criminals, Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaer Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so he can get a large ransom from his crotchety father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell) which he in turn plans to keep for himself and pay the two men off with a small amount and give them the car they’re using from his business. Jerry is in financial trouble with the GMAC who are on his case about accounting problems regarding car loans at his job. To get some extra cash he has also been trying to set up a real estate deal with Wade and thinks it’s all set but his plan soon goes sour when ol’ Wade wants full ownership leaving Jerry with only a measly finders fee.
Carl Showalter (Buscemi) is in shock after his partner in crime Gaer Grimsrud (Stormare) shoots a cop at point blank range during a traffic stop.
Meanwhile, Carl and Grimsrud kidnap Jerry’s wife (in an incredibly funny sequence) and toss her in the backseat of their car. On their way through Minnesota, they are stopped by a policeman in the town of Brainerd (home of Paul Bunyan and Babe The Blue Ox) who Grimsrud, a non-talkative psychopath, shoots at close range. As Showalter and Grimsrud are in the middle of clearing the body off the road, two people drive by and see them. Grimsrud decides to chase after the car and finds they’ve crashed down the road. To make sure the people are dead he shoots them. The next day, pregnant Brainerd police officer Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) finds the car and begins investigating the deaths of the two people which leads her on a trail to Jerry.
With their unique ear for dialogue, The Coens, who grew up in Minnesota, were inspired to use the small town people of their home state as the inspiration for the main characters. The unique regional style of talking that they grew up with always stands out to everyone who watches the film. The characters speak to each other with such goofy cadence and their accents, especially Marge with her “You betcha’s” and Jerry’s “Ah jeez’s” really stick in your brain. The Coens also used similar themes and set ups they originally explored in their debut Blood Simple (such as the roadside killing sequence) but were able to re-adapt them to create an even more clever and entertaining effect in this film.