----

----
Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

November 20, 2012

FILM REVIEW

Fargo (1996)

Todd Mason will have the links to many Overlooked Films and Television over at his blog Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check them out.

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand): So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.

“Now you see me, now you don’t” is how I’d describe actors like Francis McDormand. I first saw her in Mississippi Burning (1988) as the wife of a county deputy sheriff who batters her for helping two FBI agents in their investigation of the murders of civil rights activists. At that time I didn’t realise she was McDormand. I must have been engrossed in Gene Hackman’s hardnosed character, especially the part where he takes a razor blade to her husband’s throat in a barbershop.

It took another film, Fargo, to bring her back into the narrow confines of my memory. Between these two movies and especially since the Coen brothers’ 1996 film I might have seen McDormand in some of her other ventures, though I don’t remember any, not unless I run through her filmography. I haven’t done that so far, perhaps after I post this piece. 


What I liked most about Fargo, superbly written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, is McDormand’s character, small-town police chief Marge Gunderson, particularly her way of speaking with a slight expression on her face and a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. I read, somewhere, that her distinctive speech, where the words are delivered slow and long, is reminiscent of the prevailing accent in the Midwestern state of Minnesota, the winter setting of the film. For instance, Marge often responds with “yaaa, yaaa!” emphasising on the vowels. You kinda like the way she talks.

A very pregnant Marge Gunderson is woken up from slumber, so to say, to investigate murders on her turf, the result of a kidnapping gone wrong. Of cheerful disposition, Marge leads a quiet and contented life with her husband Norm Gunderson (John Carroll Lynch) who is supportive of his wife and her job in a rather unassuming way. 


Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), who works for his rich father-in-law’s car dealership, is steeped in debt and in a last-ditch effort to get out of his financial crisis decides to have his wife kidnapped so that he can milk her father for a hefty ransom and clear his dues. He hires Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) to carry out the task on the condition that there would be no bloodshed and, above all, his wife would come to no harm.

However, the kidnap caper does not go as planned and soon bodies start piling up and it’s not long before Marge begins to sniff around Jerry’s office and asks him questions that make him more awkward and uncomfortable than he already is.
 


There is nothing pretentious about Fargo. The two main characters, Marge and Jerry, are ordinary people, but opposites: one is driven by her values and ethics, the other by his greed and ambition. The film rolls at an easy pace as police chief Marge Gunderson investigates the murders in a quiet and matter-of-fact manner, in what could be deemed as a realistic setting for a crime thriller. Although seasoned actor Macy gives out a fine performance with his bungling act, it’s McDormand who walks away with the honours—she won an Oscar for her role (as did the Coens for best writing and screenplay). This is her film.

12 comments:

  1. I've seen this film once, when it was new, and enjoyed it. When I see clips now, they always tickle me.

    The accent McDormand speaks is rather an exaggeration of Scandinavian influenced English as spoken in the northern Plains. Go far enough north, and it begins to seque into Canadian inflections, which are also distinctive to an American ear. An actor friend from Michigan used to do a similar accent when mimicking the folks from home.

    McDormand's character, though, is so entertaining for the way she is totally unshocked by what she encounters. Her bemused reactions are even more ironic because she is so pregnant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ron, thanks for the information about the origins of the accent McDormand speaks in. I found her character's dialogue delivery and impassive countenance very appealing and it was one of the reasons why I liked the film. A good film on the whole.

      Delete
  2. One of my wife's favorite films. I can take it or leave it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Charles, I won't say it's one of my favourite films but I liked it a lot; it is an unusual film in many ways. I should see some of McDormand's other movies to understand her as an actor.

      Delete
  3. One of my favorites too. I like most of the Coen Brothers films though. With a couple of big exceptions, that is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patti, I don't recollect seeing too many of the Coen brothers films with the exception of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN though I might have watched some without knowing it was made by them.

      Delete
  4. I love this movie. We lived in North Dakota for a few years, so it rings a little extra true for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fleur, one of the things I liked about FARGO is its total lack of sophistication, in terms of characterisation and plot. I don't know if it's a Coen brothers trademark as I haven't seen all their movies.

      Delete
  5. I enjoyed this movie when I saw it and it is one of my favorite Coen Brothers films. I especially like John Carroll Lynch and this is the first role I saw him in.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Track, John Carroll Lynch is an actor I'm not at all familiar with but I liked his supportive role in FARGO. If I remember correctly, he listens quietly to his wife's recount of how her day went even as the couple go about their routine duties around their home.

      Delete
  6. This is not really my favourite Coen brothers movie (she is Mrs Joel Coen in private life incidentally) - I much prefer MILLER'S CROSSING and BARTON FINK for instance, even BIG LEBOWSKI. But you are right to pinpoint the centrality of her performance and I do like McDormand a lot in this film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sergio, I didn't know Frances McDormand was married to Joel Coen and I have since found that they have been so since 1984. I haven't seen any of the movies you mentioned though I have heard a lot about THE BIG LEBOWSKI which I have been meaning to watch. Every time I think of FARGO, McDormand's character comes to mind first. She is quite the unassuming actor.

      Delete