on March 08, 1996 by Kim Williamson
Returning to their artistic (and geographic) roots after the fabulous but overbudgeted "The Hudsucker Proxy," the filmmaking duo of Joel and Ethan Coen turn in yet another of their mini-classics with this dark-humored drama of debt, ransom and murder. Based "exactly as it occurred" on crimes committed in Minnesota in 1987, this Working Title production tells the story of Twin Cities car salesman Jerry Lundegaard ("Oleanna's" William H. Macy) who, desperate for money, hires two crooks the logorrheic Carl Showalter ("Desperado's" Steve Buscemi) and the Cro-Magnonly quiet Gaear Grimsrud ("Damage's" Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife (Kristin Rudrud). Jerry hopes that her wealthy father (Harve Presnell) will fork up a pecuniary payoff, all without bloodshed. Not surprisingly, coming from the makers of "Blood Simple," "Miller's Crossing" and "Barton Fink," "Fargo" eventually has bloodshed aplenty, due as much to the conspirators' (mis)fortunes as to dogged investigations by the otherwise laconic police chief Marge Gunderson ("Beyond Rangoon's" and Joel Coen spouse Frances McDormand, in perhaps the year's first Oscar-worthy turn.)
   Two films expertly made one, "Fargo" uses Gunderson's sleuthing to propel the piece, and her homespun ways and remanent Scandinavian articulations ("oh, ya?") are, however tinged with knowing authorial satire, unwavering delights. (The Coens are native Minnesotans.) Though there are recurring check-ins with the blundering and bad-luck bad guys, the two sides don't collide until the last scene, which finds a truly perplexed Gunderson asking the arrested Gaear why: "There's more to life than a little money.... I just don't understand it." Despite the cinematic glee the Coens have made with their deadly conspirators, the filmmakers' life-moral ending is underscored by the fact that Gunderson throughout is decidedly pregnant. All the main players are perfect, but "Fargo" isn't; early on, the Coens seem self-consciously creative (all for effect, a break-in is ludicrously staged, and then interrupted by the wounded Gaear's insistent search for "unguent"), and a sequence involving a former Gunderson schoolmate (Steve Park) suffering from dementia hula-hoops in from another movie. What is perfect are the contributions of two Coen constants: Roger Deakins, providing cinematography favoring icy blues and whites, and Carter Burwell, whose score transforms an old Scandinavian folk tune into a theme for Far North film noir. Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. Directed by Joel Coen. Written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Produced by Ethan Cohen. A Gramercy release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence, language and sexuality. Running time: 98 min
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