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75. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Fargo

March 29, 2018

Director: Joel Coen
Screenplay: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare
Runtime: 98 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1996

 

★★★★★

 

Joel and Ethan Coen rejoice in the unexpected; the taking of genre tropes and narrative convention and dipping them into places unexplored. Fargo is their most prominent feature to use such an approach – and arguably their best ever work.

 

Much like their crime-oriented stories from Blood Simple and Raising Arizona, this is a narrative that spins out of control due to the ongoing incompetence and emotional messiness of human beings in the tensions of kidnap scenario gone wrong, featuring despicable people doing despicable things. Any other director would come at this from a perspective of detached nihilism, but the Coen’s relish the opportunity to run amok with the inherent absurdity of human behaviour through a comprehension of jet-black comedy reading.

 

This is made all the funnier by the characters’ embellished native accents which are so ill-suited to the gravity of the situation at hand, and hilariously deployed to spout inconsequential chatter. Its an ingenious tactic of colliding its tones into something that feels so of itself and unique.

 

At the heart of all of this is Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson - one of the greatest fictional characters ever conceived; a goodhearted, determined, stern yet ever-optimistic police chief who won’t let her heavy pregnancy get her down. Dawdling her way through scenes of extreme violence on the case, her vulnerability, intelligence and charm make her the Coen’s most endearing creation. These are all performances from remarkable characters actors, with William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare all graduating into mainstream success.

 

Carter Burwell’s score is unpredictably lasting, and Roger Deakins’s cinematography is some of his best work; the wintery frames so soft and empty, but always centred by the unusual or the unnerving that feels just out of place in the landscape.

 

Fargo’s tone oscillates between complicated terror and bloodshed, and good-humoured repartee yet somehow keeps an even head – a darkly comical, tellingly paced masterwork.

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