Maybe I’m just jaded from having been subjected to so many bad films recently, but “Fargo” is just as a much of a breath of fresh air now as it was 25 years ago. From start to finish, it continually demonstrates the difference between a well told, well made film and poorly constructed, overstuffed, poorly made ones. There are so many things done right in “Fargo” it’s hard to even give it a proper review. There’s a reason it has not only launched the careers of the Coen Brothers, but also has been entered into Library of Congress (one of only 6 films that year) and makes the top 100 Greatest Films in America History. “Fargo” is culturally impactful and brilliantly crafted, deserving of all its praise and acclaim in the last 3 decades and maintains it all even 25 years later.
Directed by Ethan Coen and written by Joel and Ethan Coen, “Fargo” acts a break out film for the auteurs. Though not new to the industry with this being their 6th feature film, it no doubt set them apart as being one of a kind creators in Hollywood, something they have maintained throughout the decades after it. They are among the likes of Tarantino and Scorsese, in that regardless of the genre or subject matter, you are almost immediately aware that you’re about to embark on a Coen Brothers film. “Fargo” cements their style in a timeless way, placing their keen eye for deadpan dark humor and subtly mixed with moments of extreme violence in the forefront of American film, and leaving a definitive mark in the cultural zeitgeist.
What sets “Fargo” apart isn’t necessarily the Coen Brothers unique aesthetic and propensity for strange stories told from even stranger characters, but just how intention and purposeful it all is. This is something that not only makes it a unique, timeless film, but makes the case as to why the Coen Brothers continue to be beloved for their work. It is so intentional on all fronts, from its characters to its setting to “based on a true story” title card troll. Nothing is left to chance and nothing is left to linger that isn’t meant to, making every single element of it fully realized and undeniably engaging from start to finish. The intention and purposefulness of “Fargo” is not only a stark contrast from other, poorly constructed crime dramas, but even good ones as well. Every frame and shot is calculated, making it a true marvel of film accomplishment.
This intention cannot be overstated. The Coen Brothers are quick to demonstrate that in film- setting matters. Characters matter, narrative matters, development, visuals, humor, violence, cilmax; it all matters equally, and “Fargo” is perhaps the standard with which all other films must contend with when asking (or refusing to ask) these kinds of questions. As a filmmaker, you should always ask if where the film is set has an influence on its overall narrative. “Fargo” not only asks these questions, but answers them in a resounding yes, and does equally and again, purposefully. This film is so intentional across the board, and is is a damn delight for doing so.
Because of how purposeful it is and how beautifully it’s constructed, “Fargo” also proves that less is more, opting for more subdued characters across the board to accent their eccentricities rather that define them by it. This is a difficult idea to even explain on paper, and even an even harder idea to execute on screen. There are a number of great examples, but for the sake of not hammering it home too much, with look at William H Macy as Jerry and Frances McDormand as Marge.
The film’s opening on Jerry meeting his two would be criminals tells us everything we need to know about everyone involved with droning on and on with expository dialogue. In a matter of seconds, Jerry is a fully realized character, one who is immediately in over his head even as he debates the validity of being on time to a meeting his supposedly set up. We are given a treasure trove of information in the smallest of reveals, and Macy is damn near flawless as a every man with monetary problems. It almost doesn’t even matter what the problems are, because Macy and his character are already fully fleshed out characters without the need for any kind of deep dive into the events of backstory into how they got where the are.
This may come as a surprise, but it’s genuinely shocking at how rare this kind of thing is in film, much less one like “Fargo“; a faux based on a true story crime black comedy set in the backwoods of Minnesota.
This shouldn’t be as surprising as it is, but I’m always dumbfounded by how long Frances McDormand has been absolutely stellar. Her Marge is the perfect blend of over the top small town cop stereotype but also a very real, down to earth person who at any given time could exist in just about anyone’s life. This is a testament to both the incredible talents of McDormand and the solid, purposeful script by the Coen Brothers. McDormand has never been a stranger to the awards, and seldom turns in a bad performance, but “Fargo” serves as a reminder of just how long she’s been churning out amazing performances for decades.
It’s hard to find a bad thing to say about “Fargo.” It is a uniquely dark, funny, and violent crime drama unlike anything before it and copied countless times over after it. This is honestly filmmaking at its best, and by all accounts is the Coen Brothers at their best. I’m a fan of most of their work, but “Fargo” serves a true defining moment for them, cementing their subdued storytelling style as a marker for the industry as a whole.
“Fargo” is just damn good, and stays good 25 years later. It is one of the best films in the last 25 years, and rightfully earns every accolade that has been given to it.
And no, I’m not just saying that to avoid the wood chipper.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
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The Coen Brothers iconic film “Fargo” is just as a much of a breath of fresh air now as it was 25 years ago.
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