Fargo (1996)
Polygram Home Video
Cast: William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand, Peter Stormare

Minnesota is not one of the locations you see frequently displayed in movies, which made their home state even more attractive to the filmmaker brothers Ethan and Joel Coen. But believe me, this is not the only thing that makes "Fargo" an original. There’s a whole lot more. Starting with a long establishing shot of a perfectly white landscape that seems never-ending, "Fargo" quickly expands into a ferocious movie that sometimes seems all too real.

Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William Macy) suffers from the tight fisted ruling of his boss and father-in-law Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). Sick of being jerked around, he wants to invest in a lucrative parking lot project but doesn’t have the money, which brings him to the idea of having his own wife kidnapped and using the ransom money for the venture. Knowing his wealthy father in law will not hesitate to pay the ransom, Jerry hires two thugs, the small-minded Carl (Steve Buscemi) and the tight-lipped Gaear (Peter Stormare). But things go horribly wrong when a policeman pulls over the kidnappers’ car in the middle of nowhere with their hostage wrapped up in a shower curtain in the backseat. Gaear cold bloodedly shoots the cop and two witnesses who pass by in another car.

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), the local police chief, investigates the case in her sharp-witted manner and soon traces back the murders to Jerry Lundegaard without knowing his specific implication in the crime. Jerry creates a larger mess in his frenzied attempt to rectify the situation. What began as the stupid idea of a weak and desperate man swiftly turns into a bloody, chaotic swath of destruction.

Fargo is both a very funny and a very tragic movie, extremely well portrayed by all the actors and the superb cinematography, earning the movie nearly uncountable award nominations and an Academy Award. Frances McDormand stands out as the very pregnant and smart police chief Marge, playing the role in an absolutely convincing natural, down-to-earth manner, adding highly to the movie’s authenticity. As a matter of fact, it is scary how easily things get out of control in Fargo and watching it happen makes you feel like you were actually watching real life instead of a movie. Fargo is an exceptional murder mystery movie. Exceptional in many ways.

The screenplay is outstanding, producing real-life characters that are frightening and heartbreaking at the same time. They are convincing and even the bad guys are not ultimately bad. They are victims of circumstance, confronted with situations they hadn’t even dreamed of. Not knowing how to deal with them, they react frantically, like cornered animals. The visual presentation of the movie with the sluggish ever-white snowy surroundings underscore the stylized violence, and the snow contrasts all too well with the red of blood. The wide landscape shots enhance the desperate and desolate situation of the movie’s main characters, while at the same time demonstrating how insignificant even the most horrific events are in the face of nature.

On the other hand "Fargo" is extremely humorous in its very own way, with the thick accent of the actors making every single sentence a matchless experience. Simply listening to Marge’s repetitious dry "Yah!" will make you crack up more than once. My favorite is the hooker, though, during her interrogation by the police, giving a very helpful description of Carl: "He was kinda funny looking and he wasn’t circumcised!"

The movie comes as both a 1.85:1 <$PS,letterboxed> and a <$PS,pan&scan> version on two sides of the DVD from Polygram. I don’t like the <$PS,pan&scan> version so much because it substantially reduces the visual impact with large parts of the image missing but I’d highly recommend the <$PS,letterboxed> transfer. The level of detail is similarly good in both versions with no noticeable <$pixelation,pixelation> or <$chroma,chroma noise>. The color transfer is perfect and well saturated, bringing out all those subtle shades and contrasts of the snowy white landscapes of this movie.

The <$DS,Dolby Surround> soundtrack is nice, adding a lot of ambient subtleties to the visual presentation through its wide but unobtrusive mix. "Fargo" comes dubbed in two languages, English and French, with English captions, and French and Spanish subtitles available through the disc’s interactive menus, where you can also find information about the actors and the filmmakers of this fascinating movie. The Coen brothers have a reputation for making very good and original movies but "Fargo" is definitely their best outing so far.