Saturday, 9 April 2011
DVD: 10 DAYS OF JOEL & ETHAN COHEN: DAY 10 - FARGO (1996)
Set in Minnesota where the Coens grew up, this rural area isn't one usually visited by film makers. With a large immigrant population of Scandinavian origin, the local accent is reflected in this, particularly in the use of the word 'Yah' for 'Yeah'. 'Yah' would appear to be the most popular word in Minnesota, capable of a variety of inflections and meanings and sometimes in the movie an entire conversation is conducted using the the one word.
When Jerry (William H. Macy), the put upon car salesman son in law of a local businessman, needs money for a scheme, he hits on the idea of having his wide kidnapped, paying the kidnappers half of $80,000 and keeping the other half for himself (except the actual ransom money which he obtains from his father in law is one million bucks, something he keeps to himself. The kidnap goes off relatively okay until the kidnappers get stopped by a state trooper outside of Brainerd the home town of Paul Bunyan. Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) had no compunction shooting the cop in the top of the head and when two people driving by see Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) dragging the body off the road, Grimsrud has no compunction about driving after them and executing them. Unluckily for the kidnappers, the local chief of police is the 7-months pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) whose mind is far sharper than her appearance and manner would suggest. Needless to say, things go from bad to worse as schemes unravel, more people die, and Gunderson ferrets out what's really going on.
As usual, the casting is perfect. Macy makes a brilliant befuddled car salesman who never gets things right. McDormand (who won the Best Actress Oscar for this performance) is just amazing, totally consumed by her character. Buscemi and Stormare are great as the small time crooks who are doomed by their own venality. The script as you'd expect is tight as newt's arse and won the Coens an Oscar for Original Screenplay. Macy, in an interview attested to this, citing the scene where he struggles inarticulately to answer McDormand's questions. Every grunt, every part word, was scripted.
Unlike Miller's Crossing (see previous post) which was drenched in dark colours, the dominant colour here is white which is no surprise as it's set in Minnesota in the winter where snow covers the landscape and ice coats the windscreens of cars. The bleached landscape is impressive and the opening shot is of a car slowly emerging into view from a white-out.
No question that this is a terrific film, made all the more distinctive by its locations and distinctive accent. Also, although proclaimed as a thriller on the covers of the DVD, it is, not unusually for the puckish Coens, also a black comedy. I enjoyed it a lot but, despite all the acclaim it received, I prefer Miller's Crossing.
Apart from the Oscars it won, Fargo was also nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Supporting Actor (Macy), Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Film Editing (Roderick Jaynes aka the Coen Brothers). It also won a shedload of awards from all over the place including the BAFTA for Direction.