Fargo (film)


Fargo (film)
Fargo

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
(uncredited)
Produced by Ethan Coen
Joel Coen (uncredited)
Written by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Starring Frances McDormand
William H. Macy
Steve Buscemi
Harve Presnell
Peter Stormare
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Editing by Roderick Jaynes
Studio PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Working Title Films
Distributed by Gramercy Pictures
Release date(s) March 8, 1996 (1996-03-08)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7 million
Box office $60,611,975

Fargo is a 1996 American dark comedy-crime film produced, directed and written by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. It stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant police chief who investigates a series of homicides, William H. Macy as a car salesman who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare as the criminals, and Harve Presnell as the salesman's father-in-law.

The film earned seven Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Original Screenplay for the Coens and Best Actress in a Leading Role for McDormand.[1] It also won the BAFTA Award and the Award for Best Director for Joel Coen at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

In 2006 it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and inducted into the United States National Film Registry. It is currently the most recently made feature length film in the Registry.

Contents

Plot

In 1987, Minneapolis automobile salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) is in severe financial trouble. After being introduced to criminals Carl Showalter (Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Stormare) by Native American ex-convict Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis), a mechanic at his dealership, Jerry travels to Fargo, North Dakota, and hires the two men to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) in exchange for a new car and half of the $80,000 ransom. However, Jerry intends to demand a much larger sum from his wealthy but tight-fisted and antagonistic father-in-law, Wade Gustafson (Presnell), and keep most of the money for himself.

Meanwhile, GMAC has been threatening to withdraw loans against cars at the auto dealership Jerry manages after accounting irregularities. Jerry has been trying to raise money by promoting a real estate deal to Wade. Jerry tries to call off the kidnapping after Wade agrees to the investment, but he is too late, and, as it turns out, Wade intends to buy the property himself, leaving Jerry with only a finder's fee, which is not enough to pay off his debts.

Meanwhile, Carl and Gaear kidnap Jean, but on their way through Brainerd, a state trooper stops them because of the car's license plates. When Carl's attempt to bribe the trooper fails, Gaear shoots and kills the trooper. Carl attempts to clear the trooper's body off the road, but is seen by a teenage couple passing by in their car. Without hesitation, Gaear begins to chase the couple when suddenly the couple's car swerves off the road, enabling Gaear to kill them both.

The deaths are investigated the next morning by local police chief Marge Gunderson (McDormand), who is seven months pregnant. She quickly deduces the chain of events and follows the leads that arise, interviewing two prostitutes who serviced the criminals and tracing the license plates on the criminals' vehicle to Jerry's dealership. After being informed that the criminals telephoned Shep Proudfoot, she drives to Minneapolis, but she acquires no information in interviews with Shep and Jerry.

Meanwhile, Jerry contacts Wade, claiming that the kidnappers insist on dealing only with Jerry. Wade accepts this arrangement at first, but later changes his mind. When he meets with Carl at a parking garage, he refuses to give him the ransom money until his daughter is returned. Angered by his demands and unexpected appearance, Carl starts a shootout and kills Wade. Before he dies, Wade shoots Carl in the side of the face, disfiguring him. Carl then kills the garage attendant on his way out. Jerry arrives at the scene after Carl leaves, and opens the trunk of his car, presumably to take Wade's body. On his way to the backwoods hideout on Moose Lake, Carl discovers that the bag he took from Wade contains a million dollars and buries most of the money by the side of the highway. At the hideout, Gaear has killed Jean, and, in a dispute over the car, he kills Carl with an axe.

Before leaving town, Marge questions Jerry again, asking him about the car used in the Brainerd murders. He provides no information, but when she changes tack by asking to talk to Wade, Jerry storms out of the office, saying he will check the lot right then for the missing car but fleeing the dealership instead. Marge phones the state police to find and arrest him, then, following up on a tip, she drives to the lake, sees the kidnappers' car, and arrives at the hideout just in time to see Gaear feeding the last of Carl's body into a wood chipper. Gaear tries to flee, but Marge shoots him in the leg and arrests him.

Jerry is later arrested in a motel outside of Bismarck, North Dakota. In the final scene, Marge and her husband, Norm (John Carroll Lynch), sit in bed together discussing his artwork, which has been selected as the design for a postage stamp.

Cast

  • Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson, the pregnant police chief in Brainerd
  • William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard, an indebted car dealer who hires two men to kidnap his wife
  • Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter, a small-time crook hired to kidnap Jerry's wife
  • Peter Stormare as Gaear Grimsrud, Carl's partner
  • Harve Presnell as Wade Gustafson, the wealthy father of Jean Lundegaard
  • Kristin Rudrüd as Jean Lundegaard, Jerry Lundegaard's wife
  • Tony Denman as Scotty Lundegaard, Jerry and Jean's son
  • Larry Brandenburg as Stan Grossman, an accountant and business partner of Wade Gustafson
  • Steve Reevis as Shep Proudfoot, a Native American ex-convict and mechanic at the car dealership
  • John Carroll Lynch as Norm Gunderson, husband of Marge Gunderson
  • Steve Park as Mike Yanagita, a high-school classmate of Marge

Production

Fact vs. fiction

Fargo opens with the following text:

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.

Although the film itself is completely fictional, the Coen brothers claim that many of the events that take place in the movie were actually based on true events from other cases that they threw together to make one story. Joel Coen noted:

"We weren't interested in that kind of fidelity. The basic events are the same as in the real case, but the characterizations are fully imagined...If an audience believes that something's based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept."[3]

The Coens claim the actual murders took place, but not in Minnesota.[4] The main reason for the film's setting is the fact that the Coens were born and raised in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis.[5]

On the special edition DVD's trivia track for Fargo, it is revealed that the main case for the movie's inspiration was based on the infamous 1986 murder of Helle Crafts from Connecticut at the hands of her husband, Richard, who killed her and disposed of her body through a wood chipper.[6]

The end credits bear the standard "all persons fictitious" disclaimer for a work of fiction.[7]

Locations

The unseasonably mild winter of early 1995 forced the crew to move locations frequently to find suitably snow-covered landscapes. Fake snow had to be used for many scenes. Pools and streams of meltwater are visible in many scenes.

Locations used during production include:

  • King of Clubs, a bar shown at the beginning of the film, was located in Northeast Minneapolis on Central Avenue.[8] It has since been razed to make way for housing for people who are HIV-positive.[9]
  • The Pillsbury Ave., Minneapolis home of Doug Melroe and Denny Kemp includes the kitchen of the Lundegaards' house.[10]
  • The "Wally McCarthy Oldsmobile" car dealership is located in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, located off of Interstate 494 and Penn Avenue. It has since been razed, and the site is currently home to Best Buy's corporate headquarters.
  • Ember's was a restaurant just west of the Louisiana exit on the frontage road (Wayzata Blvd.) of Interstate 394 in St. Louis Park. The location is now out of business and the building has been razed. It is now the location of an office building.
  • The kidnappers' hideout cabin is located north of Stillwater, Minnesota.
  • The Edina, Minnesota Police Station was used for interior shots of the Brainerd Police Station.[11]
  • The Lakeside Club, where Marge interviews the hookers, is in Mahtomedi, Minnesota.
  • Carl steals a license plate from the parking lot of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
  • Chanhassen Dinner Theatres was used for the José Feliciano concert.
  • The Minneapolis Club Parking Ramp (located on 8th St. and 3rd Ave, Minneapolis, Minnesota) was used for the scene wherein Wade delivers the money to Carl. The end of the scene, where Carl exits the parking garage, was actually shot at a different garage down the street – the Centre Village Parking Ramp (located at 8th St. and 5th Ave.).
  • The Paul Bunyan [11] statue was located west of Bathgate, North Dakota on Pembina County Highway 1.
  • Mr. Mohra's home was filmed on the corner of 3rd Street and Bryan Avenue in Hallock, Minnesota.[11]

Accent

The film's use of "Minnesota nice" and a "singsong" regional accent are remembered years later, with locals fielding requests to say "Yah, you betcha", and other lines from the movie.[12] According to the film's dialect coach, Liz Himelstein, "the accent was another character". She coached the cast using audio tapes and field trips.[13] Another dialogue coach, Larissa Kokernot (who appeared onscreen playing a prostitute), notes that the "small-town, Minnesota accent is close to the sound of the Nords and the Swedes", which is "where the musicality comes from". She also helped McDormand understand Minnesota nice and the practice of head-nodding to show agreement.[14] The strong accent of Jerry and Marge is less common in the Twin Cities, where over 60% of the state's population lives. Speakers from Minneapolis and St. Paul are more characterized by the Northern cities vowel shift, which is also found in other places in the Northern United States such as Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo.

Reception

Critical response

Fargo was met with universal critical acclaim.[15][16] Film critic Roger Ebert named Fargo his fourth favorite film of the 1990s (he also named it "best of 1996").[17] In his original review, Ebert called it "one of the best films I've ever seen" and explained that "films like Fargo are why I love the movies".[18] Many prominent critics named it "best of the year", including Joel Siegel, Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, Gene Siskel, and Leonard Maltin.[citation needed] Fargo has the honor of being one of the very few films to ever receive a unanimous 'A' rating from the critical mass of ratings at Entertainment Weekly.[citation needed]

The film was ranked number 84 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Movies" list in 1998 (although it was removed from the 2007 version) and number 93 on its "100 Years...100 Laughs" list. The character Marge Gunderson was ranked number 33 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. In 2006, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Film festivals

Fargo was screened at many film festivals. It was in the main competition at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director prize). Other festival screenings included the Pusan International Film Festival, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Naples Film Festival. On March 1, 2006, for the film's tenth anniversary, the annual Fargo Film Festival showed Fargo by projecting the film on the side of the Radisson Hotel (the city's tallest building) in downtown Fargo. The city repeated the event on September 29, 2011.

Awards and honors

Wins

Nominations

Other honors

American Film Institute

Soundtrack

Fargo/Barton Fink: Music by Carter Burwell
Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell
Released May 28, 1996
Genre Film score
Length 43:15
Label TVT
Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology
The Hudsucker Proxy
(1994)
Fargo
(1996)
The Big Lebowski
(1998)

As with all the Coen Brothers' films, except O Brother Where Art Thou, the score to Fargo is by Carter Burwell.[24]

The main musical motif is based on a Norwegian folk song[25] called "The Lost Sheep", or natively "Den Bortkomne Sauen".

Other songs in the film include "Big City" by Merle Haggard, heard in the Fargo bar where Jerry meets with kidnappers Carl and Gaear, and "Let's Find Each Other Tonight" a live nightclub performance by José Feliciano that is viewed by Showalter and a female escort. In the diner, when Jerry is urging Wade not to get police involved in his wife's kidnapping, Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" can be heard faintly in the background. The restaurant scene with Mike Yanagita is accompanied by a piano arrangement of "Sometimes in Winter" by Blood, Sweat & Tears. None of these songs appear on the soundtrack album.

The soundtrack was released in 1996 on TVT Records, combined with selections from the score to Barton Fink.[24]

Track listing

  1. "Fargo, North Dakota" – 2:47
  2. "Moose Lake" – 0:41
  3. "A Lot of Woe" – 0:49
  4. "Forced Entry" – 1:23
  5. "The Ozone" – 0:57
  6. "The Trooper's End" – 1:06
  7. "Chewing on it" – 0:51
  8. "Rubbernecking" – 2:04
  9. "Dance of the Sierra" – 1:23
  10. "The Mallard" – 0:58
  11. "Delivery" – 4:46
  12. "Bismarck, North Dakota" – 1:02
  13. "Paul Bunyan" – 0:35
  14. "The Eager Beaver" – 3:10
  15. "Brainerd Minnesota" – 2:40
  16. "Safe Keeping" – 1:41

Home video releases

  • The film has been released in several formats: VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-Ray, and iTunes download.
  • The 1996 special edition VHS release included a snow globe that depicted the woodchipper scene which, when shaken, stirred up both snow and "blood".[26]
  • The film was first released on DVD on July 8, 1997 in a bare-bones edition and widescreen transfer.[27]
  • A "Special Edition" DVD was released on September 30, 2003. The opening titles stating "This Is A True Story" have been changed in this edition from the actual titles on the film print to digitally inserted titles. Also, the title preceding Jerry Lundegaard's arrest "Outside of Bismarck, North Dakota" has been inserted digitally and moved from the bottom of the screen to the top.[27]
  • A Blu-Ray version was released on May 12, 2009.

Television spin-off

In 1997, a pilot was filmed for a television series based on the film. Set in Brainerd, it starred Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson. Directed by Kathy Bates, the episode was shown during Trio's 2003 Brilliant But Cancelled series of failed TV shows.

References

  1. ^ "Oscars.org". Awardsdatabase.oscars.org. 2010-01-29. http://awardsdatabase.oscars.org/ampas_awards/DisplayMain.jsp?curTime=1232207703515. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  2. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Fargo". festival-cannes.com. http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/4685/year/1996.html. Retrieved 2009-09-16. 
  3. ^ http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1499898/rewind-separating-fact-from-cinematic-fiction.jhtml
  4. ^ O'Rourke, Mike (1997-02-11). "Reaction to 'Fargo' nomination". Brainerd Dispatch. http://www.brainerddispatch.com/fargo/fargoacdmynom.shtml. 
  5. ^ Smetanka, Mary Jane (2008-08-08). "We're ready for our close-up, Mr. Coen(s)". Minneapolis Star Tribune. http://www.startribune.com/local/west/26437374.html?elr=KArks7PYDiaK7DUvDE7aL_V_BD77:DiiUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  6. ^ Mark Gado (1986-11-18). "All about the Woodchipper Murder Case". Crimelibrary.com. http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/family/woodchipper_murder. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  7. ^ Fargo from the Urban Legends Reference Pages
  8. ^ "(stock photo with location)". Cgstock.com. http://www.cgstock.com/894. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  9. ^ "At last, a real home". Ccht.org. http://www.ccht.org/At_last_a_real_home.html. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  10. ^ J. Pinkley (April 28, 2003). "Kitchen of Kemp, Melroe home". startribune.com. Archived from the original on 2007-10-22. http://web.archive.org/web/20071022112119/http://www.startribune.com/1641/story/70938.html. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  11. ^ a b c Fargo (1996) – Filming locations.
  12. ^ Robin McMacken (May 9, 2004). "North Dakota: Where the accent is on friendship". St. Petersburg Times. http://www.sptimes.com/2004/05/09/Travel/North_Dakota__Where_t.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  13. ^ Laura Randall (March 26, 2004). "She Accentuates Film Performances". Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0326/p13s03-almo.html. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  14. ^ Chris Hewitt (October 19, 2005). "Forget `Fargo' – actors put accent on Minnesota realism". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-31663962_ITM. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  15. ^ "Fargo Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Uk.rottentomatoes.com. http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/fargo. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  16. ^ "Fargo (1996): Reviews". Metacritic.com. http://www.metacritic.com/video/titles/fargo?q=fargo. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  17. ^ "Memo to the Academy". Siskel & Ebert. Aired on January 18, 1997.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 8, 1996). "Fargo". Chicago Sun-Times (Sun-Times Media Group). http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19960308/REVIEWS/603080302/1023. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  19. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
  20. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
  21. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
  22. ^ AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
  23. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  24. ^ a b "Soundtrack Details: Fargo". SoundtrackCollector.com. http://www.soundtrackcollector.com/catalog/soundtrackdetail.php?movieid=45147. Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  25. ^ Braxton, Jonathan. "Fargo/Barton Fink". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. http://web.archive.org/web/20070928000011/http://www.moviemusicuk.us/fargocd.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  26. ^ Ty burr (May 2, 1999). "SUMMER FILMS: SYNERGY; A Few Words in Defense of Swag". http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/02/movies/summer-films-synergy-a-few-words-in-defense-of-swag.html. Retrieved 2010 December 9. 
  27. ^ a b IMDB Fargo DVD Information

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