Tuesday, March 6, 2012

PCP - I Finally Watched Fargo

Thanks for dropping in on CRAPOLA.  In an earlier post in the PCP section here, I wrote about the 15 movies I was most embarrassed to have never seen.  My goal is to work through the entire list this year and write about those movies.  The first movie from the list that I had the opportunity to watch was Fargo.  Like many of the movies on the list, I actually own Fargo, I just never had the time to get around to watching it.  I bought the movie strictly based on the fact that it was critically acclaimed and that I was likely to enjoy it.  Let's find out if I had wasted my money or time on the movie, shall we?  Warning - very mild spoilers ahead.

Fargo - 1996, Rated R.  98 minutes.  Starring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, & Peter Stormare.  Written & Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen.  My rating:  can be found at the end of the review, as it is more complicated than just X out of 10.

Fargo is a crime caper from the Coen brothers, the same guys behind No Country For Old Men, the recent True Grit remake, and another film from my list of 15 movies I'm embarrassed to have not watched - The Big Lebowski, amongst other films.  Fargo came out in 1996, but it is set in the 1980s, and it takes place in Minnesota and North Dakota (mostly Brainerd, Minnesota despite Fargo, (ND) being the title of the movie), so everyone has the customary accents associated with that region of the country, which I actually found grating after awhile.  (Aw Jeez, ya, sooper, you betcha).  The film stars William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard, a car salesman who decides to have his wife kidnapped for ransom, since his father-in-law is loaded, but doesn't share the money with his son-in-law.  He plans on splitting the ransom with the criminals he hires, the extremely talkative Steve Buscemi and the extremely quiet (in this role at least) Peter Stormare.  Unfortunately for all 3 of the criminals, they're all extremely inept, and the plan unravels and spirals in violence as the criminals are chased by pregnant policewoman Frances McDormand.  The movie is extremely linear, with almost next to no plot twists or mystery at all.  The viewer has everything laid out for them, there is nothing for the viewer to solve or investigate or interpret for themselves, they just get to sit back and enjoy the movie.

Read the rest of the review after the jump!

Despite being very straightforward, the film is very enjoyable.  For its time it was somewhat graphic, with a total of 7 murders, many of them outright executions, and one memorable scene involving a corpse and a wood chipper.  The acting performances are outstanding.  William H. Macy received an Oscar nomination (supporting actor) for his role, Frances McDormand won an Oscar for best actress in a leading role, and the other characters are great also.  Steve Buscemi is his usual manic self, and Peter Stormare is actually pretty good playing his subdued character that actually has a lot of violence in him just beneath the quiet exterior.  He's like a deep lake with a very large predator under the surface - it's very still most of the time, but when that predator comes up to the surface, watch out for some major ripples in the water.  Also, all of the main characters, except for McDormand, are really rather stupid simple people, which is probably why the criminals' plot unravels so easily.  Macy's Lundegaard doesn't even consider the actions that the staged kidnapping will have on their teenage son, for just one example of how poorly thought through his plan was (which is the point of the movie).  A number of the characters in Fargo remind me of a later Coen brothers film, Burn After Reading, where a number of characters are so criminally inept and stupid, and now having seen Fargo I can see that Burn lifted a number of its character elements from Fargo.

In addition to Macy's Oscar nomination and McDormand's win, the film also won an Oscar for best original screenplay, and was nominated for Cinematography, Editing, Direction, and Best Picture at the 1997 Academy Awards (where it lost most of those to the boring as all hell The English Patient).  The screenplay was obviously very strong and the dialogue transports you directly to that part of the country in the 1980s.  The film is also beautifully shot, with the stark landscape and isolation of MN and ND playing a character itself within the movie.  Also, the film does a great job of jerking around the mood of the story, from light moments with the stupid characters to very dark and grisly scenes very abruptly. 

How well does it hold up?  In some ways pretty well, in others not so much.  Despite it's short length, the film moves somewhat slow and it actually feels a little longer than its 98 minutes.  The storyline was very linear, featuring none of the out of order structure of other films from that decade like Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, and there is zero mystery to the film.  I like my crime movies to have at least a couple twists to them.  Also, despite being a dark comedy, I thought the film was rather short on laughs and was just sort of dark, without the comedy.

Rating the movie if it came out today:  7 out of 10.  Basically, now the film isn't particularly original, and the storyline is almost too simple by today's standards.  It almost feels quaint.  Maybe I'm missing something, I don't know.  It's good, but I almost feel like it was overhyped.

Rating the movie had I reviewed it in 1996:  9 out of 10.  The film deserved all of the critical acclaim it had back in 1996.  It was part of a wave of critically acclaimed violent films from the 90s (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, LA Confidential, Seven, Fight Club) and a precursor to a lot of movies we take for granted today.

Final rating:  8 out of 10.  The movie is good, but I don't honestly feel like I would have missed anything spectacular had I never actually watched it.  At least I don't feel like I wasted my time on the movie, but I don't see it as a movie I'll be revisiting too often in the future.  To me, Fargo is a product of its time and place.

Ok that's all for today.  Tell me your thoughts in the comments (or on Facebook or Twitter) and thanks for dropping by!

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