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A homespun murder story. 

Year: 1996 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Joel Coen 
Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi  
An image from Fargo

Minnesota, 1987. Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is burdened with a massive debt he is desperate to clear. Coming up with what is evidently his best plan, he decides to hire two men from Fargo (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wealthy wife and split with them the ransom his father-in-law would pay to have her back. Yet, what started as a “no-rough-stuff” type of deal can only go terribly wrong, of course.

Inspired by true criminal offences that occurred across the States (don’t believe the opening titles, though, most of it is fiction!), the Coen brothers produced and directed a successful dark comedy turned cult classic, which in fact inspired last year’s FX mini-series of the same name, starring Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton.

Morena Maglitto

"All hail the Coen Brothers!" That was the cry across Hollywood as their perverse little tale of small town greed, desperation and murder winded up dancing a merry jig around the 1997 Oscar Ceremony; eliciting a legendary song from compere Billy Crystal ("MYYYY kinda Town, that Fargo IS!") and a couple of statuettes into the bargain. Luckily then, Fargo manages to hold up as being one of the Academy's wisest choices; a black-as-coal thriller with a rich vein of well-judged humour in which everyone gets their just desserts.

All is not well in the sleepy town of Brainerd, Minnesota. Jerry Lundegaard (William H Macy – phenomenal), an ineffectual car salesman is in deep financial poopy. So he hires a couple of goons to kidnap his wife, in the hope that her rich father will cough up the loot and get everything back on track. Of course, everything goes deeply, deeply wrong and before long there are corpses (several), buried briefcases (well, one) and a heavily pregnant local cop on the case.

Perhaps the Coens' greatest trick, with regards to Fargo, was convincing the world that it did happen. This devilish gambit ended up sending one poor viewer to her death as she searched in vain for the buried money on a snowy backwater road in Minnesota. And it's a credit to the brothers' skills in writing (Best Screenplay, thank you very much) and directing, that this really does feel like something that could've happened. Frances McDormand (Best actress) is top value for money as the whip-sharp, but kindly Sheriff Gunderson, but it seems unfair to single her out amongst a cast who pull off their delicately drawn roles with aplomb.

Fargo is shaping up to be the Coen Brothers' masterwork. Save The Big Lebowski, everything they've done since has paled in comparison, being too broad (Oh Brother) or just too plain commercial (Intolerable Cruelty). So this is the film to see, especially if the nights are getting long and the snow setting in. Who knows what might be buried out there?

Greg Taylor

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Screenings of this film:

1996/1997 Autumn Term (35mm)
2004/2005 Autumn Term (35mm)
2010/2011 Spring Term (35mm)
2014/2015 Summer Term (35mm)
2021/2022 Summer Term (digital)