Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fargo: These boots are made for walkin' . . .

'Fargo' begins with white, emptiness, and cold. A car emerges from the bleak swirl of snow heading towards a bar in Fargo, North Dakota. 'Fargo' begins and ends with starkness.

The story is about a pathetic used-car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard, who devises a "foolproof" scheme to gather the money needed to pay off his debts. He is cheating his customers and expects to get back on the right path after making a business deal that will hopefully get him out of possible bankruptcy. Lundegaard arranges his own wife's kidnapping, so he can share the ransom money (to be paid by her rich father) with the kidnappers. Unfortunately, almost everything that possibly could go wrong does, and does so horrifically.

This is where Marge Gunderson, Chief of Police, enters. She is generous, considerate, sharp as a tack, and in her second trimester of pregnancy. However, she does not let morning sickness and food cravings slow her down in her pursuit of the truth. We get to see all sides of the story from Marge's investigation, to Jerry's sweaty guilt, to the two kidnappers' twisted mission.

The absurdity of life is what the directors were getting at. 'Fargo' is a hard movie to categorize: it could be a black (very black) comedy or even a thriller. The quirky Minnesota accents and strangely lifelike little touches lend it humor, though there are no real jokes or classic comic gags. The entire film is rather distanced from the story and the characters, who have realistically pointless, stupid, and funny conversations.

The other side of the movie is gruesome and dark. Murders arise unexpectedly, and the violence is generally quick but grim. The violence, language (the f-word occurs an uncountable amount of times), and sexuality are what give 'Fargo' its deserved R rating.

The acting is excellent and profoundly understated. Characters are neither stylized nor implausibly smart and are quite believable. Frances McDormand plays the intrepid Marge Gunderson, one of the strangest detectives ever to grace the screen. She is considerate and intelligent, though not impossibly so. It is wonderful to see such a great role model, nearly flawless in her funny way, chase down the killers. McDormand gives warmth to her role and makes Gunderson a thoroughly lovable character.

Loser Jerry Lundegaard is played deftly by William H. Macy. We identify with his excruciating financial problems, and almost feel sorry for him. What keeps him from being completely pitiable is his stupidity and selfishness. On the selfish side, he is willing to put his wife in danger for money, and on the stupid side, he doesn't believe her life is in danger. Macy is not afraid to be the nervous, squealing pig that Lundegaard is.

The two kidnappers are Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud, played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, respectively. Showalter is the crude and talkative "funny looking" little guy, who is greedy and foolish beyond belief. Grimsrud is the quiet hulk with ice in his veins. He is the silent psychopath who seems completely detached from the world and any emotions (well, unless it comes to soap operas). Together, the two really get on each others' nerves and provide some of the funniest scenes.

'Fargo' is one of the strangest and best movies I have ever seen. The cinematography, acting, and plot come together to make a brilliant movie. Its unremarkable aspect is what makes it so remarkable. Don't ask why the directors put something in. This movie breaks almost every single convention without blinking an eye. There are ironic contrasts and similarities, between the dramatic music and what is occurring on screen, and the blank landscape and the characters. The violence is somehow graphic and genuine, though not much is usually shown: 'Fargo' is an offbeat and dour masterpiece.

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