"Movie Magazine International" Review

(Air Date: Week Of 3/6/96)

By Michael Fox

According to the press kit, the off-kilter new Coen brothers film, "Fargo," is "a reality-based crime drama." Reality is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and nobody would accuse Joel and Ethan of having much of an interest in so-called "ordinary life." Nonetheless, "Fargo" is the Coens' most accessible film since "Miller's Crossing," not that Coenheads need any extra encouragement to catch their heroes' latest examination of America's moral bankruptcy.

"Fargo" opens in snowy midwinter, with Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard hiring a couple of lowlifes to kidnap his wife in order to extract a chunk of cash from his rich father-in-law. Lundegaard, played by William H. Macy, Joe Mantegna's partner in David Mamet's "Homicide," is hardly a criminal mastermind. He's just in deep, desperate hock to somebody and hatches this demented scheme to bail himself out. But since one of the kidnappers is independent film regular Steve Buscemi--that's Mr. Pink to you--we know from the get-go that the plan is gonna get botched in some major, bloody way.

Well, sure enough it does, and the setting shifts to the vast white wasteland of rural Minnesota, where a pregnant local police chief played by Frances McDormand picks up the case. And that's all of the plot I'm going to give you.

"Fargo" is an unsettling film, a black, black comedy packed with telling moments of pain and insight. It's put together beautifully, with the tone shifting uneasily from daffy farce to real menace. In fact, "Fargo" is so compelling because, for once in a Coen brothers movie, we really believe something is at stake. "Fargo" isn't a genre update or a bunch of rarefied jokes, but a serious study of hollow, short-circuited lives. Uh, with laughs.

At the same time, "Fargo" is the kind of irony-crammed movie you walk out of with more questions than answers. For example, are the Coen brothers mocking small-town Minnesotans, with their unbelievably banal conversations, or playing it totally straight? And don't miss the fact that most of the violence takes place in the safe suburbs or rural nowhere, far from the supposedly dangerous cities.

What I'm saying is that "Fargo" isn't "fun," it's not feel good and it's not uplifting. It is however, the must-see film of the season.

Copyright 1996 Michael Fox

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