Watching Fargo reminded me of Susan Glaspell’s one-act drama, The Trifles, not because the plot is the same, but the inherent poetry and irony in both the stories share a strong semblance. Perhaps they could be non-identical twins in the macrocosmic phenomena of fiction, yet Fargo is a romantic transcription of a story that the Coens claim to be based on true events. Whether that is true or not is up in the air, but that doesn’t change much; Fargo is a musical—almost too elegant—and is meant to be appreciated as a play, a brilliant play.
Directed by the Coen Brothers (credited to Joel Coen), Fargo is a musical crime drama set on the snowy blazes of Minnesota (shot across North Dakota, Minnesota, and Canada). Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is buried under debts and more debts. As a remedy to all his woes, he hires two conmen (played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormar) to abduct his wife (Kristen Rudurd as Jean), the sole daughter of his ultra-rich father in law (Harve Presnell). The initial plan works out just fine but things don’t turn out as expected after the kidnapping. The family, the kidnappers, and our own Jerry are left in a muddy mess following a homicide in the middle of nowhere; the crime falls on the laps of the very pregnant, and adorably cute, local cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). Twisted, complex, yet terribly simple, Fargo embodies the trifling absurdity of complexities and in a whisker, the movie channels a fresh turmoil told in an appealing and poetic manner by the Coens.
Fargo is a crime thriller that is unique, as clichéd as that would sound, yet it is a new berth in the genre that attempts—very successfully—to blend the Shakespearean Era of Dramedy to the modern concept of crime thrillers. With witty and quirky characters, all having a dynamic routine, Fargo feels like an organized symphony of characters. No wonder, it has a catching, explicit background score (Carter Burwell) that evokes an emotional nuance and alongside the riveting cinematography (by Roger Deakins), the movie shapes into a musical crime fiction that almost gives the feeling of reading an artsy prose than watching the mystery unravel through the chirpy characters. In many ways, Fargo is satirical having a smooth flow, unobstructed and abstruse, garnered with awkward predicaments and a thorough examination of an episodic crisis. The steadfast characters in zippy conditions and their reaction to each situation catapult this movie as a bittersweet experience despite the seriousness in the situation, which the Coens present in a light, humorous, and distant manner.
As a spectator and admirer of cinema, I adore the cinematography of Fargo. Far-away shots, a warm color, textbook composition, and a melodic photography overall that is complimented by the sincere art direction stylizing Fargo as not merely a wonderful story on camera, but also visually abundant cinema that moves without really moving and captures the hearts of audiences with an expressive devising of a drat story. The scenic coldness of Minnesota, the snow-covered roadways, and the artsy inner decorations feel homespun—setting it as a story about connections and interconnections, a society in which we are all deeply connected in some form or the other. This visual aspect of Fargo exemplifies the heart of the story and the execution by Joel (and Ethan) Coen leaves you with a vintage feeling, maybe nostalgic for lovers of plays, prose, and poetry.
Since its inception, Fargo has gained popularity for the subtle and humorous treatment of a hard-hitting story that is somewhat close to the lives of the Coens. It doesn’t feel distorted or blurry at any time, although it maintains a distant look into the lives of the personas, whilst hovering into the periphery of these characters—so contrasting and so animated, each with a reason to move on. Throughout the movie, the Coens keep the screenplay tight, with the execution just right packaging it into a well-played out crime drama that has the right ambience, the right atmosphere, the right performances, and the right direction.
Charming amidst glooms, Fargo is a parody of crime and satires the silent world of criminals. It is lyrical, almost too classy to be termed as a thriller and bears resemblance to the prose writing of Charles Dickens—detailed, structured, soothing, and rhythmic—and the drama of William Shakespeare—ironic, dramatic, humorous, amusing, and clever. What we get in turn is a true modern day gem.