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Now sit right on down on a carpet or quilt
And lend me an ear for a minute.
I’ve got here a story of greed and of guilt,
And there’s death and dishonesty in it.

You may have heard tell of some murders up north
Around Brainerd not far from the border.
It started with three deaths (or was there a fourth?);
Regardless, it shocked the reporter.

It didn’t take long for the local police
To kick off the investigation,
And boy, what a puzzle! They gathered each piece
With no lack of luck and frustration.

Turns out the two culprits behind it were wicked,
But there was a right normal guy
Who stuck his nose right where you don’t want to stick it
And hired those two on the sly.

It came down to money to finance the lie
That set off the kidnapping fraud,
Which led to the murder when things went awry,
For even the best plans are flawed.

It’s hard to imagine some schmo you might know
Doing something to cause homicide.
It just goes to show how lies snowball and grow,
And you don’t know what folks have to hide.
________________________

MPA rating:  R

Back now to the ol’ Blindspot list, which I’ll unfortunately be hard-pressed to finish before the end of the year. Perhaps this opinion is just based on ignorance, but 1996 has always struck me as a weak year for cinema with few must-see award-worthy films. Yet Fargo has some ardent fans, even spawning a spin-off TV series nearly twenty years later, so I felt impelled to see what the fuss was about. The Coen brothers are an acquired taste, but their uniquely dark humor distinguishes this tale of fraud and murder from what could have been pedestrian.

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All I knew about Fargo going in was the famous Midwestern accents (“Don’tcha know”) and that scene of Frances McDormand standing next to a car wreck in the snow. I was sort of expecting a mystery and was surprised then to see the crime start from the very beginning, with Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) meeting two mercenaries (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) in a dive bar in Fargo, North Dakota, to arrange for the fake kidnapping of his wife, with the expected ransom set to pay off all involved. It took longer than expected for McDormand’s Marge Gunderson to arrive on the scene, following the clues that the naïve Jerry and ruthless hitmen leave in their wake. Watching everything unfold was like observing one of those true crime stories in action, knowing whodunnit but awaiting the culprits to meet their comeuppance as they dig their graves deeper.

In a way, my opinion of Fargo is an odd mix of appreciation and overhype. It’s not a film that I automatically love or would want to immediately include in the National Film Registry (which it was only ten years after its release), yet I’ll admit there’s something intriguing about the way the story plays out. For example, I hate profanity as a rule and rarely think it adds anything to a movie, but in Fargo’s case, there’s a clear contrast in how only the hitmen and their ilk cuss while Marge and the other law-abiding Minnesotans are content with “for Pete’s sake” and “aw, jeez” and a surfeit of “yah”s. Jerry’s thin veneer of good-natured smarminess is gradually peeled back as he realizes how deep in over his head he is, even as the folksy mannerisms of him and Marge give the proceedings a wry sense of humor.

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Despite her late introduction, McDormand is certainly the star and deserved her Best Actress Oscar, imbuing her pregnant policewoman with all the levelheaded practicality needed to ground the film and provide the audience someone to root for. The Coens’ Oscar-winning screenplay also stands out, though there were several unresolved tangents that could have been better explained, such as the lack of explanation for Jerry’s need for money or the inclusion of an old classmate of Marge’s who adds nothing to the main story. Plus, isn’t it odd that the film is called Fargo when only the very first scene actually happens in North Dakota? My VC and I were dreading the “wood chipper scene” we’d heard about, thinking it would be overly gruesome, but it honestly could have been worse. (Maybe I’ve just been desensitized by Criminal Minds.) I’m slowly working my way through the Coens’ eccentric filmography, so I’m glad to add Fargo to my watched list. It uses small-town quirk to its advantage to make a shocking murder story into something more distinctive, an exemplar of the saying “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Best line: (Marge, kneeling at the crime scene) “Oh, I just think I’m gonna barf…” [standing up again after a moment] “Well, that passed. Now I’m hungry again.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
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