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Fargo plays at FilmScene for twentieth anniversary

FilmScene's rooftop series ends with Fargo, a tradition since the series started. Another layer is added, as this year marks twenty years since the film was released. Harry Westergaard gives his thoughts on the modern classic.

Harry Westergaard, Film Critic/Reporter

Two thousand sixteen marks twenty years since 1996, which means twenty years since the release of many great films. As we near the end of 2016, I should probably talk about the most important film released in 1996. I have already written about 1986’s masterpiece Blue Velvet and now it’s Fargo’s turn. Upon it’s release, the Coen Brother’s magnum opus sparked lots of acclaim upon release and with reason. The film is a modern masterwork that has aged quite well.

The film concerns an intricate plot set in motion by hapless car dealer, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), to have his wife kidnapped and procure the ransom from her seemingly well-off father. Lundegaard hires two men (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to carry out the operation, however, things start to fall apart as pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) closes in on their trail.

First off, everyone in the film’s cast gives a top notch performance. Jerry tries to keep it together, as the plan he had so carefully plotted is thwarted and falling to bits. Steve Buscemi does a bang up job (literally, in some scenes) playing Carl Showalter. He plays the same ratty character he played so effectively in other films of the period,such as Reservoir Dogs. Fargo is no exception: Buscemi has some of the funniest lines in the picture, including his chemistry with his terse companion, Gaer Grimstrud. Stormare, as Gaer, is very unpredictable, which along with his emotive expressions, makes his performance delightful. He seldom speaks but when he does, it’s always a kooky thing, such as a request for waffles for dinner. I can’t do it justice in description. For a role in which he doesn’t say much, Stormare does an impressive job.

Of course, one can’t review Fargo without talking about Frances McDormand. She stars as the pregnant cop, Marge Gunderson, who cracks the case. She plays the role very casually and yet she knows everything that’s going on, as the only smart person among all this craziness Her accent is both spot-on and hysterical. It should also be noted that she doesn’t appear for the first twenty minutes or so. More on that later. John Carroll Lynch also gives a humorous performance as Marge’s husband, Norm. He’s mundane, yet hilarious. This is an example of one of the film’s themes,  a juxtaposition between the mundane Minnesota life and this extraordinarily intricate plot by Lundegard.

The film’s story is tightly woven and engaging. At the same time, as I have stated, it can be challenging to always know what’s up, despite the twenty or so minutes of setup that I described earlier. However, this isn’t a bad thing. There are no plot holes per se, but you are still left considering some things afterwards. There are a couple of scenes that could come across as filler, but these aren’t a problem, as the viewer is already into the characters and the plot. The well-written dialogue also helps. The script by the Coens is very witty and mundane. Many of the characters feel like real people and their motivations seem realistic, if not a tad fantastical. As I stated, this is a key aspect of the film.

The film also has a very wintery atmosphere. The shots of snow-covered Minnesota are beautifully shot. There are scenes where you can’t tell the foreground from the background due to the strong white color of the snow that is very present in the film. Carter Burwell’s score adds to this element in scenes as well. It’s not a very flashy soundtrack but it’s one that fits the tone of the movie. The film has a strong atmosphere; some of the best shots of the vast winter landscape help convey this.

Overall, Fargo is an essential film that shouldn’t just be viewed by students of film, but by everyone — especially Midwesterners. That’s the movie’s charm; it can be enjoyed by just about anyone for how hilarious it is. But that’s not all there is to it. With great performances, funny dialoge, beautiful photography and a tight plot that keeps you invested and on the edge of your seat, Fargo is a masterwork of storytelling on film.


On Sunday, Nov. 6, Fargo will be shown at FilmScene as the last entry in their rooftop series. The film is annually played to send off the series until the next summer. If you wish to bundle up and experience this 20-year old classic on the roof — either for the first time or the millionth —  get your tickets now as the film is quite popular! You betcha.

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Fargo plays at FilmScene for twentieth anniversary