(Featured Image credited to Wikipedia)
Release: March 8, 1996
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Running time: 98 minutes
Starring: William H Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Harve Pressnell and Peter Stromare among supporting actors
Starting off the list, we have Fargo, what some would consider a strange movie about the three M’s, Murder, Money and Minnesota, even though the real Fargo is in North Dakota. Fargo is only mentioned because it is the location of the start of the movie. Speaking of the start of the movie, let’s get right to it, as to why it is #10, on the Greatest Movies of All Time:
Before the movie starts, we are granted with a disclaimer. Surely this is fiction but you wouldn’t believe it if you saw it for the first time. It reads: ” This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
After this brief opening, we are then treated to scenes of a blizzard, as shown in this video, one of the most epic and wonderful opening scenes of all time:
Honestly if you didn’t get chills up your spine, I may need to check your pulse to make sure you’re still alive. This ominous opening scene instantly grabbed my attention and made me hungry for the rest of the movie. Nothing beats a damn good opener!
In this scene, we first meet Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), the sales manager of an Oldsmobile dealership. His end game is that he wants enough money to be able to buy and own his own lot. But at the moment, he is unable to pay off a bank loan that included nonexistent dealership vehicles. Basically he is embezzling money through the bank accounts of the car dealership to either pay off debts or something else, movie didn’t specify in that angle. Through one of his mechanics,Shep Proudfoot, Jerry hires two criminals, Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stromare) to kidnap his wife and get her wealthy father to extort a ransom. In return for kidnapping his wife, the pair will take half of an 80,000 ransom and a BRAND NEW CAR! Just had to throw that one in there.
At first, Jerry considers calling off the kidnapping after offering the car lot deal to his father in law, Wade Gustafson. However after fronting 750,000 dollars, Wade ends up wanting to do the deal himself, only giving Jerry a finders fee. The finders fee of 10% of 750,000 dollars isn’t enough for Jerry to pay off the loan, even with his garuntees to keep the whole stock, Wade’s partner Stan Grossman insists: “We are not a bank, Jerry.”
While this meeting is going on, Grimsrud and Carl carry through with kidnapping Jerry’s wife, Jean. Now I’ve seen kidnapping scenes in movies before, but this one for sure is one of the most disorganized and messiest crimes I’ve ever seen. Evidence of a break in is just everywhere. Also, they don’t even kidnap her, she just flies down a flight of stairs and falls unconscious. Here, see for yourself:
So yeah, huge mess, evidence of broken glass, fingerprint DNA and the like. So they put a bag over her head, tie her up and leave her in the backseat. The criminals are on their way to Brainerd, Minnesota as when Jerry sees the signs of a struggle, he then calls Wade and tells him that his daughter was kidnapped, this was part of the plan, possibly the only part of the plan that Jerry got right.
The bumbling duo then get pulled over in the snow by Brainerd police. Carl failed to put on temporary vehicle registration tags. As the trooper asks for license and registration, he finds out the car isn’t registered and he hears Jean making noise in the backseat. As the trooper leans his head in to investigate, Grimsrud blows his brains out. Two bystanders drive by and watch the duo try to dump the troopers body. Grimsrus tracks down the bystanders and kills them both. As the scene changes, we are finally introduced to our hero, the pregnant, Minnesota-Nice police chief, Marge Gunderson.
We meet Marge just waking up for work, as her loving husband Norm makes her eggs before heading out the door. Notice in this film, the gender roles within the marriage flip. Usually it is the man that goes out to work and the woman maintains the house but in this marriage it’s the other way around. This, in my opinion, is an element of foreshadowing into the powerful and strong character of Marge Gunderson.
Marge then observes and basically recites what we saw as the audience. There was a heavy set man and a lighter set man, with the footprints of the lighter set man approaching the car. Marge finds her first clue, the notepad that was half filled by the trooper stating that the license plate had DLR, which means the car was taken from a dealership. The station then connects the car to the motel the criminals stayed at. Through her police work, Marge finds her way into questioning Jerry.
Now because of the murders, Carl calls Jerry and says that he wants the entire $80,000 ransom. The criminals are hid out, with Jean, in a wooden shack, and Carl is telling Jerry that him and Grimsrud have got to leave the country. Then right after that call, Jerry gets a call from the bank, saying that if the VIN numbers aren’t sent to the bank, the legal team would have to step in. Notice how Jerry is slowly losing control of the situation, little by little. Jerry told Wade that it was a 1 million dollar ransom and Wade states that he wants to deal with the criminals himself, else he’ll go to the authorities.
Now Marge goes into Jerry’s office and questions him about the stolen Ciera. Jerry clearly dances around this question and eventually lies to her and says there were no vehicles stolen from the premises. Now around this time of the movie, before the eventual climax between Carl and Wade, comes one of the more controversial scenes in the movie. It’s mostly controversial in the sense that some fans find it pointless but by watching the movie more than once, you’ll see at least where my head is at.
Marge meets an old friend from high school, Mike Yanagita. Now Mike comes off really awkwardly to Marge as he initially tries to hit on her by sitting closely, clearly Marge, being married, wants none of this. Then Mike starts breaking down in tears saying that his wife was dead and he was feeling lonely. After that meeting, one of Marge’s friends calls her and says that Mike never married that woman. Turns out Mike has psychotic problems and was checked into a mental asylum for several years, now he lives with his parents.
So what’s the point? What is the meaning of this character arc? Well my theory is that Marge learns something. She learns a lesson that surely we have all learned in life. Some people just aren’t who they say they are. She figures this problem lies with Jerry, given his nervous and dismissive behavior. This prompts her to return to the dealership.
While that happens, Carl and Wade confront each other at the top of the parking garage. Initially, Carl wanted Jerry but Wade insisted on going himself with the million dollars. Clearly that was a mistake, and it ends with Wade dying and Carl getting shot in the face. Carl then takes the money, takes 80,000 and buries the rest in the snow, and comes back to the hideout. Carl ends up in a wood chipper but we aren’t there JUST yet!