Fargo (1996)

Can’t ever get enough of hearing the term, “You betcha!”

A car salesman (William H. Macy) is in a tight pinch for money and needs it as quick as humanly possible. His solution? Hire two criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife for ransom, so that he can get the money from his very wealthy father-in-law and split it with the two criminals. Everything seems to be fine for the three and going according to plan, until people show up dead due to some tragic consequences. That brings pregnant police officer, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), to the scene where she ends up figuring out just what is shaking all around her sweet, little town of Fargo.

Before I go on any further and lose more and more friends, family, fans, and confidantes than I already know I will, I just want to state this right away: I liked this movie. I can’t argue against the Coens’ artistry as writers, or as directors; the film is always entertaining, no matter how many times I actually do view it (fourth or fifth by now). That being said: It is a tad overrated.

Yup, I know. Bring on the boos.

It’s okay though. It’s exactly what I expect by now, seeing as I’ve had this opinion for as long as I can remember. And it isn’t because I enjoy going against the societal-norm because it makes me look strong, hip, and cool; it’s more just that this movie has never really charmed me as much as it has done so to everyone else.

Hey woMAN, nice shot.
Hey woMAN, nice shot.

That said, there are some little pleasures to be found in this nearly hour-and-a-half movie that still surprise me to this day. First of all, it’s the relaxed-tone of this movie that really does it some justice, as the Coens seem to throw us little, itty, bitty details every once and awhile. Just by the way in which a character looks, or does, or says something, gives you the slightest hint about what we’re supposed to think about that character, and this small town of Fargo, with its sometimes quirky, residents.

In fact, this is probably where the Coens win the most brownie-points from me, as it shows that these guys clearly love these characters they’ve created, and rarely ever pass judgement on them. Sure, they’re a bit ditsy and sheltered from the rest of the world, but they’re still happy with that. It doesn’t make them bad or good people – it just makes them people, who also just so happen to live in a place that’s very far from what some consider the “idealistic landscape to live in”. However, that’s just some people and their opinions, man.

Even two despicable human beings like the characters played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare would easily be the most evil, unlikable fellows in the whole movie, and yet, there’s something about them that still keeps us away from hating them. Maybe moreso in the case of Buscemi’s character, as he seems like a guy who just gets his job done, does what he has to do, acquire his money and live a simple, carefree life like he’d done before, but even with Stormare’s character, there is still something about his quiet-demeanor that draws us to him. That’s probably what also drew the Coens to him so much in the first place, but it works more for us, as we are the ones who have to make up our own minds about these characters, and whether or not we choose to sympathize with any of them.

William H. Macy’s character is clearly the one who we find the hardest time caring for, but even his little quirks make us like him, if only for the faintest of reasons. As for Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson, well, we love her for being just about the opposite of these previously mentioned guys: She’s a simple, lovely and delightful lady that expects the best out of humanity, and only wants to bring happiness to the world. That set-in-stone idea that she has about the world around her gets tarnished a whole lot once she realizes that there’s some actual ugliness out there, and yes, it’s found its way into her own, safe little world that she’s made for herself. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her when she sees everything wrong and terrible about what this world can offer, but that’s what also makes it her so damn human in the first place, despite her small quirks here and there. It’s easy to see why McDormand won an Oscar for this role, as she steals the show just about every time, which was not an easy-feet, considering the talent she had stacked-up against her.

And of course, I could even say that the whole mystery itself still surprises me every once and awhile, all because certain plot-points make a bit more sense now, than they ever did before. That may be less of an attribute to this movie, and more to the caffeine I drank before watching this, but it’s something to still note regardless. The Coens love their characters and what makes them who they are, but they also still love themselves a little twists, a little turns, and better yet, a little bit of blood to be shed, all in the name of some cold, hard crime. These are the guys I’m comfortable with seeing make movies for the rest of my natural-born life, but more importantly, I would love to see them continue with the thriller-genre, and seeing how many times they can put their own creative-spin on it.

But now, here comes the time in my review where I lose all of your love and adoration, and get down to the simple fact, which is: Yes, I think Fargo is a bit overrated.

First and foremost, my problem with this movie isn’t that I’ve seen it so many times that I know everything that happened right from the get-go; in fact, that’s terribly false. There’s plenty of movies I’ve seen many more times than I can probably count, that still remain my “favorites”, even if I know every twist and turn that’s coming around the bend, all because I’ve seen said movie more than a couple of handful of times. But that’s not the point – the point is that with Fargo, I feel like every twist and turn is suitable into what gets a rush out of the viewer so much when watching it, and it just doesn’t hold-up on repeat-viewings, like so many movies I re-watch do.

Doesn't know if the wife he wanted kidnapped is dead or alive. Oh, the everyday  man's crisis.
Doesn’t know if the wife he wanted kidnapped is dead or alive. Oh, the everyday man’s crisis.

There’s small, little tidbits that are worth noting that made me smile because I didn’t notice them once before, but after awhile, I started to realize that there was maybe something a bit too odd when it came to the plot’s-structure. I love me some Steve Park, but his role/subplot Mike Yanagita, an old-friend of Marge’s, could have easily been written-out and the movie would have not suffered one bit. Sure, it’s another instance of the Coen’s making weird characters that they love, but it doesn’t do much for the movie except take us away from the actual crime on our hands; the same crime that Marge herself is investigating.

And I get it, I really do – the Coens like to do this sort of thing where they all sorts of different strands of plot that they are able to weave together somehow, through someway, but I just didn’t feel like it worked so well here. At the end of the day, when the people who deserved to be gone, were gone; the crime has been solved; justice has been served; and some life-lessons have been thrown around, I wondered: What was the point? Maybe this is just a personal problem I have with this movie, but once that anti-climactic ending came around, I had a hard time feeling wholly satisfied. Instead, I just ended my fourth or fifth-viewing of Fargo as I’ve done with any other viewing done before: It’s good, but that’s pretty much it.

Sorry, friends, family and whomever else may actually care. I truly am. Please take me back. Please!

 Consensus: Though the Coen’s clearly have a love for their characters, their story and all of the twists they throw into the plot, Fargo still doesn’t do much for me as a movie that has me thinking for days-on-end.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Smart idea, except for the fact that ALL OF THE SNOW LOOKS THE SAME.
Smart idea, except for the fact that ALL OF THE SNOW LOOKS THE SAME.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net


  1. Well written as always Dan, but I have to disagree with you a bit on this one. I actually thought it was a bit overrated on first viewing but with repeats have come to appreciate it more and more. Also regarding Mike Yanagita, isn’t the point that after her meeting with him, Marge learns that he was lying about his family. This revelation leads her to think that Jerry could have been lying too and returns to question him further. Therefore he is relevant to the plot no?

    • I guess so. I didn’t garner that from viewing this again, but I see what you’re saying. Something just didn’t seem all that reasonable with him and his appearance though. As much as it pains me to admit.

  2. Finally someone agrees with me that this film is overrated. I’ve only seen it once, but the film seemed flat to me; it wasn’t exciting. Maybe I was expecting so much from what I’ve heard, but the Coens have done better.

  3. Nice review, but I still think of this as a great little indie film with a wonderful performance by McDormand. I’m not a big Coen movies fan but I can’t ever remember seeing another movie about a very pregnant cop working in the snow. I rewatch this, every so often and I always appreciate the great acting in it.

  4. Great write up Dan. Appreciate you going out on a limb here 🙂 Really enjoy Fargo and have to admit small concern over what the TV show might do to it. Steve Buscemi is at his very best here – the casting is perfect. Love how this film ends before all of your questions are answered- such confident storytelling from the Coens.

  5. Ha! Great Review. I had to watch this the other day before the start of the FX series based on the movie. I think you make a great point; the movie is calm, almost soothing, which makes certain scenes jump out. Almost like it lulls you to sleep not expecting the boom on the horizon. I wouldn’t call it over-rated, it is a great film but it certainly has its faults. I think it simply received so much hype and attention because it was the not a common way in the 90’s to tell a ‘mystery/ thriller.’

  6. I have to agree with Rich on this one. I thought it was good but overrated the first time and liked it even more the second time. Haven’t seen it a third time yet. Still like the way you explain yourself, though. Great review.

  7. “Boooo!”

    Just kidding Dan, opinions make the world go round and yours is a darn good’un. I’ve only seen this once and, who knows, maybe a few more viewings will have me in the same camp as you. Until then, I’m in the ‘love it’ camp. Top review mate!


  8. I’ve not seen it since it was out in the theaters. So thanks for the refresher.. Eight out of 10 and it is just good? And this is the fourth or fifth time you’ve seen it? The math seems a bit off to me.

    I did watch the premier of the series tonight, and aside from the snow, and the cold, and penchant for violence – it has Fargo written all over it – just not quite the Coen Bros. Fargo. I think all of you have read and enjoyed Dan’s work should be sure to watch the series.

  9. Good review, Dan. I have to say: I think this film very near perfect, because, I think, it is far more complex than you are giving it credit for being. There are themes aplenty here: the dangers of greed and materialism, the breaking down of gender roles in a time when society was adjusting to a new reality of working women, and many more. Fargo, in my opinion, is easily the Coen’s most complex thematic work. For more:


  10. Is that a Filter reference in the caption caption of the second picture? Excellent work if it is! Great review as always though. Very well put. This is one of the few movies I consider to be perfect, but I’d kind of agree about the Mike subplot on second thoughts. The gender roles are interesting and it just adds that extra level of Coen weirdness, but perhaps not an essential part of the film.

  11. Nice review. I can definitely understand your feelings of Fargo, but it’s one of my favorite movies. I saw the TV pilot a few days ago and thought it was pretty superb as well.

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