Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

December 12, 2013 at 11:17am

Check This Out: "Fargo" (1996)

You betcha!

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Some days you just don't feel like paying for another Redbox rental, and the next movie on your Netflix queue takes FOREVER to arrive in your mailbox. And recession or no, who can pass up free, convenient entertainment? Every Tuesday, "Check This Out" recommends movies available at any of the eight branches of your friendly local library. So you can satisfy your next film fix at the place with the books.

The man in the heavy coat approaches his car windshield, ice scraper in gloved hand. Back and forth, back and forth the scraper goes across the layer of ice coating the glass. Its pitifully dull edges barely make a dent. The man scrapes harder, faster; his chapped lips pucker into a grimace. His patience reaching absolute zero, he throws the scraper and a shriek of rage into the gray sky above.

Maybe you had a similar moment during one of the recent 30-degrees-and-dropping days last week, but this scene also arrives in the middle of the 1996 film Fargo. Watching it again after who knows how many years felt right for this time of year, if at least to remind myself how much better I have it than Jerry Lundegaard (the man with the scraper).

Besides having to contend with an frosty windshield, he needs to get his hands on a lot of money very soon (what he did exactly to plunge so deep into debt remains the film's nagging mystery), so he hatches a desperate scheme with two hoods to kidnap his own wife so her well-off father will pay a hefty ransom. In a career-launching performance, William H. Macy portrays Jerry not as greedy villain, but as courteous everyman with that now-famous ya-betcha Midwestern twang. You end up feeling more pity than anything else for this rather pathetic, mousy fella who's trapped himself in a corner of the maze, and makes matters worse with one colossal fandango after another.

Almost every character in Fargo has something distinctively unappealing about him or her - Jerry's father-in-law's domineering bullheadedness, balanced by his daughter's lack of composure during her capture, resulting in two sad-yet-funny flopped attempts at escape. The film serves as an uncomfortable reminder that when crisis strikes do we rarely act with any grace.

If only we could keep our wits in every situation like Marge Gunderson (played by director/co-writer Joel Coen's real-life wife Frances McDormand). As Brainerd, Minnesota's police chief investigating 3 murders related to the kidnapping, the very sweet and very pregnant "Margie" descends deeper into Jerry's bizarre plot without ever losing her confidence. She keeps her cool, yet it's McDormand's bright smile and dimpled chin that warm the edges of this hostile climate. Fargo has memorable characters and a skewed tale as only the Coen Brothers can do it, one that puts the heartland through the wood chipper.

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