A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 597 – Fargo

Fargo – October 18th, 2011

Can you believe that up until recently we didn’t have this movie in our collection? Bizarre, isn’t it? The thing is, I know we owned it. We both know we owned it. Andy remembered buying it. Yet when we went through our collection to make our big list full of titles and running times and planned viewing dates and series notes and whatnot, it wasn’t there. No Fargo. We were baffled. Because we both greatly enjoyed this movie and because it seemed unthinkable that we wouldn’t have a copy in our home. My suspicion is that we loaned it to someone and that whoever borrowed it forgot that it was borrowed and we sure as hell don’t remember lending it to someone so I don’t blame whoever we lent it to for forgetting too.

I’ve put this review off a bit (okay, more than a bit) largely because every time I open it to work on it I think to myself “how do I actually describe this movie?” But then again I could just go with saying that it is a Coen Brothers movie. They usually do this odd but fantastic combination of brutal crime, personal tragedy and dark humor. Described flat out, this isn’t a funny story. And yet it has a fair amount of humorous moments in it. The thing is, the humor doesn’t really make this movie a comedy. But it’s also not a mystery and it’s certainly not action. It’s drama, yes, but not, say, in the way A History of Violence was. It’s a unique tone that I have yet to see from anyone else.

Really, this is a pretty bleak movie. It centers around a police investigation into what the audience knows is a staged kidnapping gone horribly wrong. People die in this movie. Innocent people die. And it’s all set during a Minnesota winter, full of snow and raw cold and slush and ice. There’s a lot of quiet thought in this movie as characters contemplate the situation. Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) has been fudging the numbers at work and is in financial trouble. He has some ideas for how to make some of it back but he needs some money right now. And so he has a plan. He hires a couple of guys to kidnap his wife, assuming that he will then be able to get the ransom money from his penny-pinching father-in-law, pay off the kidnappers with some of it and keep the remainder. Obviously there’s a lot that could go wrong with this plan, and all of it does, leading to the deaths of several people.

When, during the kidnapping, the kidnappers encounter a car full of people who could possibly identify them, they turn around and kill them, which sparks an investigation by local police detective, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). At first glance, one might dismiss Marge. She’s fairly unassuming and very obviously pregnant and she’s clearly a far cry from the wisecracking hardass cops from action movies. But she is dedicated and she is smart and she is observant and while her detective work isn’t flashy and her actions would hardly inspire Hot Fuzz‘s Danny Butterman, she does indeed find out who’s responsible and she does indeed apprehend one of the kidnappers.

Personally speaking? I love Marge. She is capable and solid and sympathetic without being soft. She does her job and deals with an absolutely horrific situation and she does it while pregnant and sick and hungry all the time. Speaking from a more critical point of view, I still love her, because she is a fantastically written character. You know who she is by the end of her first few scenes and she is a character with depth. Her pregnancy? It isn’t part of the plot. She doesn’t go into labor in the middle of a car chase or a shootout. There’s no question of who the father is, no big dramatic reveal. It doesn’t make her weaker or less able to do her job. But it’s also not ignored. She does get morning sickness. She does spend a good portion of the movie eating. It’s part of her character in the space of the movie and it’s part of what I love about how the Coens treat their characters. They feel like people instead of stereotypes.

I have to admit, the scenes with Jerry Lundegaard make me all sorts of uncomfortable. He is so very pathetic and as soon as you see him talking to the kidnappers he’s hired you know that this will not end well. There is no way this can end well. This is going to be bad or worse. There is no good outcome possible here. And he is so very desperate. He sits in his office, pleading with people and worming his way out of things and making promises he can’t keep. To his credit, William H. Macy does a superb job with the character. Lundegaard is well played and well written. It’s just that what makes him well done also makes him extremely difficult for me to watch. Of course, the whole movie hinges on not just his actions but his ineptitude in all facets of his life, so there’s no real way to avoid it.

The events of the movie unfold in pretty much exactly the way that they have to. There is no other way things could happen here, so there’s a feeling of terrible inevitability to it all. That it was all just waiting to happen. The quiet and rather dark humor of the movie keeps it from being too desperately bleak, which is a good thing because with less humor and less nuance the whole thing could simply be a depressing look at a terrible crime, told at a desolate time of year. And with long stretches of plowed and salted road and plenty of snow and slush, with everyone bundled into shapeless parkas, the visuals are just that. It really is amazing that the movie just doesn’t feel as dark as it actually is, and I credit the Coens and Frances McDormand for that.

October 18, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | ,

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