BP’s Top 100 Challenge #14: Fargo, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I grew up in the Midwest so I am a little precious about it. I will and do defend the Midwest as more than just a series of fly-over states. I didn’t grow up in Wisconsin or North Dakota, but there is a lot about Fargo that I find comforting and charming. The Coen’s seem to understand the charm that the Midwest holds, and also the inherent quirkiness of living there. There are often long and hard winters and that does start to mess with your mind after a while. If you have ever heard of a “polar bear swim” then you get what I mean.
The characters are the most fun part about the film. William H. Macy’s performance as the sweaty, fool Jerry Lundegaard is wonderful. There are all the great, bigger moments, like when he is covering up his stealing from the company or covering up his involvement in his wife’s kidnapping. But there are also great small moments, like when he goes out to his car and has to defrost it and scrape off the windshield and he kind of loses it. Sometimes it is just the little everyday stuff that pushes you over the edge. Then, of course, there is the wonderful Francis McDormand as Marge Gunderson. What I like about Marge is that not only is she an adorable expecting mother and a sweet wife but she is also a really good cop. She put enough of the insane story together the catch the bad guys, well at least one. Her little speech at the end as she is driving Gaear to the station after she finds him putting a body through a wood chipper wonderfully summarizes her and who she is a person.
While the big story is ludicrous and absurd, it does lend itself to a lot of humor. But there are also the smaller moments in the story that really round out the lives of the characters. I like the side story about Marge’s husband entrance in a local stamp art competition. And how proud Marge is when his picture is chosen. I also like the part of the story where Marge meets up with an old high school friend Mike, who thinks that their reunion is going to be more than a friendly chat. Those smaller moments really flesh out the film and give it a nice bit of heart and humor to balance out the horrific violence.
Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare play the kidnappers, Carl and Gaear. They are pretty terrible guys. Carl, who can never shut up, is a nice foil to Gaear, who rarely speaks. Together they make a pretty viscous pair. Carl is more deceptive and smarmy where Gaear doesn’t blink when it comes to shooting a cop or chasing down witnesses and killing them. He is also willing to kill their hostage and his partner as easy as changing the channel. All of that is balanced out by how blunderingly clueless Jerry is and how sweet Marge is.
It has taken me many years to appreciate the Coen brothers’ films. There are number of their films that still don’t work for me, but I like Fargo a great deal more now than I did when I first saw it in college. Their dialogue is snappy and fun and they know how to ride the line between serious and funny. Their tendency towards moments of horrific violence doesn’t always work for me but that is one of their signatures and I can usually get past it. Their partnership with director of photography Rodger Deakins means that their films, including Fargo, look wonderful. Deakins captures the vastness of wintery fields and the beauty of the frozen countryside with is camera. It doesn’t make me long for Midwestern winters but it does make me appreciate how beautiful and dangerous they can be.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Fargo ranking: Battleship