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Joel and Ethan Coen have made a career out of offbeat films and characters whether it be in a minor work such as Burn After Reading, cult favourites like The Big Lebowski or in major work like Fargo. For me Fargo is the best film The Coen Brothers have ever directed and it perfectly balances it's offbeat style with a crime thriller that is evocative in it's use of location.
The film begins with a note, this is based on a true story it says with the names of the survivors being changed. This is a lie. The Coens are being playful right from the get go. The story could easily have been real though so we as an audience have no qualms with believing the blurb at the beginning.
The film centres around Jerry Lundegaard, a bit of a loser, who hires two men (one of which could be described as funny looking) to kidnap his own wife to get her Father Wade to pay up so he can take the money he desperately needs. But Jerry is desperate so he tells Wade the ransom is One Million Dollars (As I wrote that I did my best Dr Evil impression) and only intends on giving the two crooks half of the $80,000 they believe the ransom to be. So already the basis of the idea is fairly offbeat.
But that's not all that is offbeat about Fargo, the very setting and the people in that setting are all kinda sweet and simple and have funny accents. This kind of offsets the seriousness of the situation that the characters are in and also I feel leads to surprise when it gets darker and more violent, admittedly even when particular acts of violence or death occur there is almost always something quirky about it but it's the meeting of two different worlds that makes it so effective to me.
Dialogue is also a deciding factor into why Fargo maintains it's oddball edge, particularly with the strange inclinations of the Minnesotan dialect, "you betcha ya" may be the genuine way people from that part of the world speak but it's bloody funny every time I here it. Also Steve Buscemi delivering peaches like "I'm not going to debate you, Jerry" and "Just total fuckin' silence. Two can play at that game, smart guy. We'll just see how you like it. Total silence." are a joy to listen to.
It's also the beautifully chilly cinematography that plays such a big part in Fargo's success. Roger Deakins has long been one of, if not the best in the business at capturing images that almost define a movie and here locations of Fargo and Brianerd look decidedly frosty and misty, hiding a world of low rent criminal hang outs and dealings like the one Jerry makes with the two crooks in the movie.
I love Fargo and I was compelled to watch it again for the countless time with the TV mini series around the corner. The recent TV spot reminding me also of the wonderful theme music as well. I have high hopes for the TV mini series but it will have to go a long way to beat out this absolute classic.