#30 - Fargo
The Plot in Brief: Unhappy Minnesota car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hatches a scheme to replace money he has stolen at the office. He hires two criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife and plans to split the ransom money with them. Dutiful, dogged, and very pregnant Officer Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is assigned to the case. Will she uncover the plot in time?
The Big Lebowski? Both are skewed takes on film noir material. Both films revolve around a kidnapping engineered by the victim’s husband in need of ready cash. (Both films even feature Peter Stormare as one of the kidnappers.) Most importantly, both films place a wholly contemporary character (common-sense Margie in the case of Fargo, stoner supreme Jeff Lebowski [Jeff Bridges] in the case of Lebowski) right in the middle of all the noir intrigue, thus igniting a conflict not only in the films’ respective narratives but also between our heroes’ values and the values of all the other characters around them.
I have read that the Coen brothers both enjoy a lively sense of humor. Could this duplication have been deliberate? Could the overwhelming success of Fargo have made the Coens think, “Well, for our follow-up film, let’s just do THAT ONE again?” I am reminded here of the Motown vocal group the Four Tops, who followed their 1965 first big hit, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”, with an equally successful tune released only a few months later, featuring virtually the same melody and arrangement — the second hit was even titled “It’s the Same Old Song.” Mind you, I do not think either film suffers by this comparison. The Pope clearly is a big fan of both, given that he placed them in the number 42 and number 30 spots on this holy list of the fifty greatest films of all time. With the passage of time, we have seen Fargo spawn a popular television series and Lebowski spawn… a religion.
The Pope is not alone in loving Fargo. The film won two Academy Awards (Best Actress for McDormand and Best Original Screenplay for the Coens) and was nominated for five others, won the BAFTA and Cannes Film Festival awards for Best Director, won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress, won the Writers Guild award for Best Screenplay, and swept the Independent Spirit Awards for Best Film, Direction, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay. Our old pal Roger Ebert wrote that Fargo was both “one of the best films I've ever seen” and “why I love the movies.”
“In nomine Coen, et Brainerd, y spiritu Wood Chipper, Ya Hey.”
full-length podcast that Patrick and I recorded about the film in 2012. Because there’s more to life than a little money, ya know.