By Glenn Dunks
April 2, 2014
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits!
It’s easy to underestimate the skill behind Joel Coen’s Fargo. Deceptive in its storytelling choices, economical with its plotting, and sly with its dialogue, this Oscar winner is truly incredible. It’s stood the test of nearly 20 years, and will continue to do so thanks to its roll call of fabulous performances, cold yet alluring cinematography, and a wickedly comic screenplay. Inspired in part by the groundbreaking television series Twin Peaks, Fargo itself has proven to be an influential and important work.
Fargo – which falsely claims to be based on a true story – follows the botched kidnapping of a wife and mother in Minnesota by Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare). Hired by the woman’s husband (William H. Macy), and eventually trailed by seven-months pregnant police Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), the bungled ransom job has, in reality, born multiple television pilots and even inspired urban legends of people travelling to find the missing case of cash.
There is so much to enjoy about Fargo, but without the performance of McDormand it’s unlikely the movie would be held in quite as high esteem. Despite not appearing until 30-minutes into the proceedings, her effective and charming take-charge attitude makes her one of cinema’s greatest characters. In the kind of strong female role that many decry Hollywood for not producing enough of, McDormand is funny, but also tough, and written so wonderfully by Joel and Ethan Coen it’s easy to forget she’s only around for two thirds of the runtime.
Despite the similarities between Coen productions involving blood, limbs, violence, and greed, there’s a refreshing deftness to the material that hasn’t changed since its 1996 premiere at Cannes. Unlike some of the Coens’ other features, and cinema in general in the years since, Fargo doesn’t allow its nastiness to take over. Despite its themes, it’s an illuminating picture that suggests things about people a cheaper, more shock-oriented filmmaker may have been more inclined to ignore in favourite of a nihilistic game of grotesque one-upmanship. It remains the Coen brothers best films and one of the best films period.
Fargo is available on Quickflix.