Monday, May 3, 2021

Screening: "Fargo"

In celebration of the film's 25th anniversary, Fathom Events presented Fargo on the big screen this weekend. You can also catch it on Wednesday evening.

Fargo (PolyGram Filmed Entertainment/Working Title Films, 1996)
Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, John Carroll Lynch and Harve Presnell
Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay
Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Macy), Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing

The perpetually inept Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) - the type of person my Dad used to charitably describe as "not one of life's winners" - needs money and lots of it, so he has come up with a hair-brained scheme to have his wife kidnapped for ransom. The idea is that his wealthy father-in-law Wade Gustafson (Presnell) will pay the $80,000 ransom, which Jerry will split with his partners-in-crime, and who will also get to keep the tan Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera that Jerry has stolen from the dealership owned by Wade, where Jerry is a salesman. What he doesn't tell kidnappers for hire Carl (Buscemi) and Gaear (Stormare) is that he plans on telling Wade that the ransom is actually one million dollars, the balance of which Jerry plans to keep after paying Carl and Gaear $40k.

The unfortunate Jean Lundegaard is successfully taken from the family home but things go awry later that night on the way to the remote hideout in Minnesota when the Ciera is pulled over by a state trooper because Carl forgot to affix the temporary tags to the new, stolen car. Carl makes a bumbling attempt to bribe the trooper that falls flat. When the trooper discovers Jean hidden in the back seat, Gaear shoots him in the head. While Carl is attempting to drag the poor man's body off the road a young couple drives by, sees the horrifying scene, and takes off...with Gaear in hot pursuit. The bypassers lose control of their car, crashing off the road, where Gaear dispatches them to the great eyewitness beyond.

Carl advises Jerry that "blood has been shed" and demands the full $80k ransom. To make matters worse for Jerry, Marge Gunderson, the visibly pregnant Brainerd police chief, is now working the triple homicide and she'll eventually catch up with Jerry and the kidnappers, culminating with the infamous woodchipper scene. McDormand's portrayal of Marge, initially presented as a sweetly competent woman but eventually revealed to be fearlessly relentless in her pursuit of justice, earned her a well-deserved Oscar.

Some Fargo facts and trivia:
  • Fargo lost Best Picture, Director, Cinematography and Film Editing to The English Patient, and Supporting Actor to Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire).
  • Despite being the main character, Marge Gunderson doesn't appear onscreen for a half hour, meaning she only appears in the last two-thirds of the film.
  • Fargo was not based on a true story as claimed onscreen at the beginning of the film, but was inspired by the 1986 Connecticut murder case in which Richard Crafts murdered his wife Helle, then attempted to dispose of her body parts by running them through a rented woodchipper. However, there was no botched kidnapping involved in the Crafts case.
  • Richard Jenkins and Bill Pullman were considered for Jerry. Macy originally auditioned for the role of the ill-fated state trooper, but campaigned hard for the role of Jerry.
  • The Fargo body count is seven. Two were killed by Carl: Wade Gustafson and the parking booth operator. Five (the state trooper, the two people in the passing car, Jean Lundegaard, and Carl) were killed by Gaear.
  • Norm's duck paintings were actually painted by "those Hautmanns" who are real-life brothers and friends of the Coens. They have won multiple wildlife stamp competitions.
  • None of the movie was actually filmed in Fargo, North Dakota, and only one scene - the opening scene where Jerry is setting up his wife's kidnapping - is set there. All other scenes take place in Minnesota, except at the end of the film when Jerry is discovered near Bismarck, North Dakota.
  • Fargo has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which means there were actually critics who gave it negative reviews. Jerks.
  • The woodchipper now resides at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor's Center. You can take your picture with it, in fact they'll give you a fake leg so you can re-create that scene.

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