One of Hollywood’s common trends is to adapt almost anything into a film, which includes popular TV series. Recently, however, this trend has been reversed, to mixed results. Yet one of the most outstanding examples of this is FX’s Fargo, inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1996 film of the same name. After being pleasantly surprised about the TV series that has recently drawn to a close, I decided to check out the movie that started it.
The audience is introduced to Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy, Jurassic Park III, Shameless) a down on his luck car salesman who, in a desperate attempt for money, concocts a bizarre plan that involves arranging the kidnapping of his wife by two criminals: Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi, Reservoir Dogs, Boardwalk Empire) and Gaer Grimsrud (Peter Stormare, 22 Jump Street, Minority Report). But as things quickly fall apart, pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand, Mississippi Burning, Almost Famous) is on the case tracking them down.
One of Fargo’s most distinctive features is that it crafts something truly unique, both with its tone and characters. The entire film has a markedly Minnesotan ambience about it, especially with the specific accents and mannerisms, which creates a contrast to the bloodshed and violence. McDormand unifies the film, anchoring the audience among the eccentricity, with other stand-out performances from Macy, who really conveys that he’s in above his head and Buscemi, who brings his trademark creepiness to a self-serving antagonist.
But the film’s undoing is that the characters never feel fleshed out. With only a 98 minute run time, the audience never truly discover the characters’ motivations or what makes them tick. And in spite of a fairly interesting premise, it just feels as if it was over all too quickly. The plot races by, leaving us at the end wondering where the time had gone. This was especially jarring, since experience with the Coen brothers’ work in the past (specifically True Grit and No Country for Old Men) were that those films dragged on for longer than should have.
One other difference is they humour, and it is clear that the directorial partnership works better when they aren’t playing it completely straight. Like everything else with Fargo, its sense of humour is unique and quite dark, which is immediately introduced by the false claim that “this is a true story”, setting the tone for the absurdity to come. But again, this suffers from not having enough comedic moments.
Fargo has had a clear cultural impact from its distinct style and tone, and peculiar characters, but is far from perfect. Scratch beneath the surface, and the plot is too straightforward and the characters disappointingly hollow, which is a shame given the potential from the performances. But it did lead to a spiritual successor with the recent TV show, which outshines the original source material.