Fargo (1996): A Great Films review

Fargo Movie Poster

He pulls up his car next to the restaurant. As he enters, he removes his heavy coat and hat, looks around the room, and notices the two men waiting for him. The men, sitting at a booth, watch as their ‘client’ sits opposite them. Soon after he settles into his seat, the man informs them of how and when exactly he would like the crime to be done. They negotiate the fee, after much back and forth, and the man gets up, grabs his coat, and leaves the restaurant, seemingly satisfied with what he has just done. However, as the viewer soon finds out, things do not fall into place as the man would have hoped for. Not at all.

Fargo is directed by Joel Coen and is written by his brother Ethan Coen as well as himself. The film stars Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi. It is based on a true story that involves a crime that goes terribly wrong until a talented police officer brings it all to light. Fargo is a crime-drama that runs slightly over an hour and a half.

Fargo Frances McDormand Marge Gunderson
Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson

One of the main features that makes Fargo such an incredible piece of cinema are the superb acting performances on display. However, only three actors deliver truly remarkable roles: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi.

Frances McDormand is one of those actresses who knows how to seamlessly blend into her roles. She gives off these natural and familiar performances that make all her film characters come to life, none more so than as Marge Gunderson in Fargo. As the pregnant police detective Gunderson, McDormand is instantly likable and connects with the viewers without much effort. Her character’s unique accent coupled with her keen detective instincts combine to deliver a formidable police officer who does not stop until she uncovers the truth of the complex crime confronting her. I think it is not an exaggeration for me to say that Frances McDormand’s performance in Fargo ranks among the very best of those given by actresses in the 1990s. She is simply unbelievable in this film.

William H Macy as Jerry Lundegaard
William H Macy as Jerry Lundegaard

Another performance I really like in Fargo is that by William H. Macy as the unlucky and clumsy Jerry Lundegaard. Lundegaard is a hapless man who puts in motion the crime that turns dreadfully wrong with unexpected catastrophic consequences. Macy is one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors as he, like the aforementioned McDormand, knows how to totally inhabit his character and makes us deeply interested and intrigued by his choices, no matter how wrong they might seem to the viewer. William H. Macy is a gifted actor who I will never get tired of watching as he has the ability to grab attention and keep the viewer gripped to his performance throughout the film. A superlative actor to say the least.

Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter
Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter

One cannot also forget Steve Buscemi as the criminal Carl Showalter. Buscemi has this special ability of playing loud and abrasive characters who manage to steal every scene they are in. He perhaps demonstrates that most clearly in Fargo as Showalter, a man who gets embroiled into a crime that evolves into a series of terrible consequences. What is admirable in Buscemi is his ability to give Showalter a lot of attitude and arrogance whilst not being annoying in the process. Not many actors can pull that off but Buscemi is one of the few who can do it effortlessly. He is yet another reason why Fargo is such a powerful acting showcase.

Fargo Cinematography 2 Roger Deakins

What gives Fargo its heart and soul, however, is the dynamic duo of Joel and Ethan Coen. Let us start with Joel Coen who directs this film. His supervision of the actors is clear all over the film. He allows them the needed space to perform to the best of their abilities without any excessive acting; a marvelous accomplishment. His choice of music in Fargo is spot-on as well. The film’s soundtrack is haunting, moody, and mysterious; it fits perfectly with the movie’s atmosphere and helps emphasize the intense scenes perfectly. Fargo’s musical score is done by composer Carter Burwell, a usual Coen Brothers collaborator, and is one of his finest works, in my opinion.

Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson (Right)
Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson (Right)

There is also the entertaining dialogue that is written by Joel and his brother Ethan Coen. Both of them do an excellent job in giving Fargo a script that is quirky, funny, and filled with unexpected twists and turns that keep the viewers engaged at all times. The Coen brothers have a very distinctive talent of deftly fusing dramatic, comedic, and suspenseful scenes together in order to deliver a rare and memorable motion picture. That talent is at its most exceptional in Fargo.

Fargo Wood Chipper Scene

A special mention should be given to one of the film’s most unforgettable scenes. As the cop Marge Gunderson slowly walks into the criminals’ hiding place, she stumbles upon a setting that completely shocks her. She witnesses one of convicts in the midst of putting his dead accomplice’s body parts through a wood chipper, with a massive gush of blood continuously flowing from the machine and unto the snow. I love how that scene is directed with such restraint and focus that it still provides me with chills even after several viewings. That is a sign of an enormously gifted director, which Joel Coen certainly is.

Fargo Cinematography 1 Roger Deakins

The film’s cinematography should be highlighted too as it is one of cinema’s most beautiful. The scenes are gorgeously shot by Roger Deakins, one of my all-time favorite cinematographers, as they are able to show Fargo’s snow and winter environment in a stunning way that leaves the viewer awe-struck. One that comes to mind is that scene which features a desolate car in the midst of snow, shot in top view, as a character slowly approaches it with his feet making footprints on the snow; a lovely scene presented in an extraordinary view. I really enjoy the experience Deakins provides via his shots as they are vibrant, alive, and visually-arresting. He is an extremely talented cinematographer who manages to tell his own story through his camerawork.

Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter
Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter

Out of all the Coen brothers’ films, Fargo stands alone as their most unique and significant film. Granted, Joel and Ethan Coen have created a handful of film masterpieces but none of their other films have this combination of environmental setting, quirky characters, or riveting storyline. Indeed, I see Fargo as a flawless motion picture that only grows in resonance the more I watch it. With a trio of terrific actors, a skillful cinematographer, and a supremely confident directing-and-writing duo, I do not hesitate in calling Fargo a film that will endure for many decades to come.

Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson
Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson



Joel Coen

Outstanding performances:

  • Frances McDormand (as Marge Gunderson)
  • William H. Macy (as Jerry Lundegaard)
  • Steve Buscemi (as Carl Showalter)


1 hour and 38 minutes




Crime / Drama

8 thoughts on “Fargo (1996): A Great Films review

  1. Great review, I watched the special features that revealed the true story was just a cheeky tagline they included to make you think that this wacky tale really happened. Something only the Coens can pull off

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