Fargo hit 20 years old on this merry day, having been released in the US of A on the 8th March 1996.
So what? Plenty of films have 20th anniversaries… but few have the outright brilliance of the Coen brother’s (currently celebrating the release of their latest film Hail, Ceasar!) total and utter masterpiece. That’s right, it’s better than No Country For Old Men.
Fargo—The 1996 Film
It’s one of those films where everything adds together. The darkly humourous plot involves a bizarre kidnapping plot which goes hideously (and somewhat inevitably) wrong and leads to a trail of carnage, death, and strange people.
Indeed, the people of Brainerd (brain-dead?) are glorious to meet, with their “Yah!”s and general inability to describe Steve Buscemi as anything other than “kinda funny lookin’”.
What’s this all about then? Okay, so Fargo is essentially about Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard’s (William H. Macy) disastrous attempt to get cash off his Father-in-law.
He hires two goons to “kidnap” his wife, the unlikely duo being the tall, quietly insane Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) and the spindly, garrulous Karl Showalter (Steve Buscemi).
This naïve hiring decision sets off a catalogue of disasters which leads to police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) getting onto the trail of events and attempting to solve an increasingly brutal, bizarre, and compelling murder mystery.
Fargo is brilliant, simply put, enriched by a glorious cast, eerily amusing script, a fantastic soundtrack, and relentless replay value.
After 20 years one can still watch it over and over without getting bored, which is down to the fantastic characters, dark humour, and fantabulous direction by the rather talented Coen brothers. For us, however, there’s one man who particularly stands out.
We have to say, it’s Steve Buscemi as the utterly depraved, desperate, and blundering Carl Showalter who steals the show.
Although technically a supporting character, it’s Showalter’s bizarre, inept behaviour which ultimately leads to everyone’s downfall. Whilst confounded by the unusual nature of the people he finds in the region, there’s no denying it’s his clumsy stupidity which is the real problem.
Charmless, slippery, and inadvertently hilarious, every moment he’s on screen overreacting to everything is a total joy (just hope you never meet anyone like that in real life).
His demise is also legendary. You’ll last see him with his leg protruding from a woodchipper after his acquaintance, Grimsrud, decides to hack him down with an axe. Lovely couple.
The endearing nature of the film continues to this day, despite several more high profile Coen brothers releases (No Country For Old Men is a more polished looking film, for sure).
You can watch it over and over and never get bored of it, which is why I believe it still to be their best film. The UK’s leading film critic agrees with me (see above), and the film’s reputation led to something else, of course.
Fargo: TV Series
A special note must go to the TV series which first appeared in 2014. It’s been a triumph so far, with a brilliant script and the malevolently charming Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) leading a stellar cast.
You betcha! Two series in, it’s become one of the most acclaimed shows on TV. That’s a fine way to build on an already fine legacy, boy!