Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joel Coen
Ethan Coen (uncredited)
|Produced by||Ethan Coen
Joel Coen (uncredited)
|Written by||Joel Coen
William H. Macy
|Music by||Carter Burwell|
|Editing by||Roderick Jaynes|
|Studio||PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Working Title Films
|Distributed by||Gramercy Pictures|
|Running time||98 minutes|
Fargo is a 1996 American 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 and William H. Macy as a car salesman who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare play the criminals and Harve Presnell plays 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. It also won the BAFTA Award and the Award for Best Director for Joel Coen at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.
In 2006 it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and inducted into the United States National Film Registry.
In the winter of 1987, Minneapolis automobile salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) is in financial trouble. Jerry is introduced to criminals Carl Showalter (Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Stormare) by Native American ex-convict Shep Proudfoot (Reevis), a mechanic at his dealership. Jerry travels to Fargo, North Dakota, and hires the two men to kidnap his wife Jean (Rudrüd) in exchange for a new 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and half of the $80,000 ransom. However, Jerry intends to tell his wealthy father-in-law Wade Gustafson (Presnell) that the ransom demand is $1,000,000, and keep most of the money for himself.
GMAC has been threatening to recall loans made for cars at the dealership Jerry manages after discovering 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 he thinks Wade has agreed to the investment, but he is too late. As it turns out, Wade intends to buy the property himself and give Jerry only a finder's fee that is insufficient to pay off his debts.
Carl and Gaear kidnap Jean, but on their way through Brainerd a Minnesota State Patrol officer stops them because the car lacks license plates. When Carl's attempt to bribe the trooper fails, Gaear kills the trooper. As Carl is moving the trooper's body off the road, he is seen by a couple passing by in their car. Gaear chases the couple, who lose control of their car and swerve off the road, enabling Gaear to kill them.
The deaths are investigated by local police chief Marge Gunderson (McDormand), who is seven months pregnant. She deduces the chain of events and follows the leads that arise, including interviewing two prostitutes who serviced the criminals and tracing the license plates on their vehicle to Jerry's dealership. After being informed that the criminals telephoned Shep Proudfoot, she drives to Minneapolis but acquires no information in interviews with Shep and Jerry.
Jerry contacts Wade, saying 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 money until his daughter is returned. Angered by his demands and unexpected appearance, Carl shoots Wade. Before he dies, Wade shoots Carl in the face. Carl then kills the garage attendant on his way out. Jerry arrives at the scene just after Carl leaves. Later, Carl discovers that the bag he took from Wade contains a million dollars. He removes $80,000 to split with Gaear, and buries the rest by the side of the highway. At the hideout, Gaear has killed Jean. He later kills Carl with an axe after a dispute over the car.
Before leaving town Marge questions Jerry again, asking him about the car used in the Brainerd murders. When she asks to talk to Wade, Jerry storms out of the office after saying he will check the lot for the missing car. Jerry flees instead, causing Marge to phone the state police to find and arrest him. After following up on a tip, Marge drives to the lake and sees the kidnappers' car. She arrives 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 last scene, Marge and her husband Norm (Lynch) sit in bed together discussing his artwork, which has been selected as the design for a postage stamp, although not the most popular denomination of stamp.
- Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson
- William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard
- Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter
- Peter Stormare as Gaear Grimsrud
- Harve Presnell as Wade Gustafson
- Kristin Rudrüd as Jean Lundegaard
- Tony Denman as Scotty Lundegaard
- Larry Brandenburg as Stan Grossman
- Steve Reevis as Shep Proudfoot
- John Carroll Lynch as Norm Gunderson
- Steve Park as Mike Yanagita
Factual basis 
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."
On Fargo's special edition DVD's trivia track, it is revealed that the main case that inspired the movie is the infamous 1986 murder of Helle Crafts from Connecticut at the hands of her husband, Richard, who disposed of her body through a wood chipper.
The unseasonably mild winter of early 1995 forced the crew to move locations frequently to find suitably snow-covered landscapes, and artificial 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, the bar shown at the beginning of the film where Lundegaard met the kidnappers, was located in Northeast Minneapolis on Central Avenue. It has since been razed to make way for housing for people who are HIV-positive.
- The Pillsbury Ave., Minneapolis home of Doug Melroe and Denny Kemp includes the kitchen of the Lundegaards' house.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- The Hitching Post Motel, in Forest Lake, Minnesota, was used when Jerry is arrested outside of Bismarck.
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. According to the film's dialect coach, Liz Himelstein, "the accent was another character." She coached the cast using audio tapes and field trips. 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. 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.
Critical response 
Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert named Fargo the best movie of 1996. It was also Ebert's fourth favorite of the 1990s. In his original review, Ebert called it "one of the best films I've ever seen" and said that "films like Fargo are why I love the movies".
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 "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" list. The character Marge Gunderson was ranked number 33 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & 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 
- Academy Award for Best Actress – Frances McDormand
- Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay – Joel and Ethan Coen
- BAFTA David Lean Award for Direction – Joel Coen
- Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director – Joel Coen
- New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film
- National Board of Review Award for Best Actress – Frances McDormand
- National Board of Review Award for Best Director – Joel Coen
- Satellite Award for Best Film
- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role – Frances McDormand
- Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – Joel and Ethan Coen
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Film
- 2006 National Film Registry
- Academy Award for Best Picture – Ethan Coen
- Academy Award for Directing – Joel Coen
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – William H. Macy
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins
- Academy Award for Film Editing – Roderick Jaynes
- Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics
- Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
- Golden Globe Award for Best Director – Motion Picture – Joel Coen
- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy – Frances McDormand
- Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture – Joel and Ethan Coen
- Palme D'or
Other honors 
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - #84
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs - #93
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains:
- Marge Gunderson - #33 Hero
- Carl Showalter & Gaear Grimsrud - Nominated Villains
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
- "You betcha!" - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - Nominated
|Fargo/Barton Fink: Music by Carter Burwell|
|Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell|
|Released||May 28, 1996|
|Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology|
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.
Track listing 
- "Fargo, North Dakota" – 2:47
- "Moose Lake" – 0:41
- "A Lot of Woe" – 0:49
- "Forced Entry" – 1:23
- "The Ozone" – 0:57
- "The Trooper's End" – 1:06
- "Chewing on it" – 0:51
- "Rubbernecking" – 2:04
- "Dance of the Sierra" – 1:23
- "The Mallard" – 0:58
- "Delivery" – 4:46
- "Bismarck, North Dakota" – 1:02
- "Paul Bunyan" – 0:35
- "The Eager Beaver" – 3:10
- "Brainerd Minnesota" – 2:40
- "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".
- The film was first released on DVD on July 8, 1997 in a bare-bones edition and widescreen transfer.
- 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.
- A Blu-ray version was released on May 12, 2009.
Television spin-offs 
In 1997, a pilot was filmed for a television series based on the film. Set in Brainerd, it starred Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson, and was directed by Kathy Bates; the Coen brothers were not involved. The episode was shown during Trio's 2003 Brilliant But Cancelled series of failed TV shows.
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- O'Rourke, Mike (1997-02-11). "Reaction to 'Fargo' nomination". Brainerd Dispatch.
- Smetanka, Mary Jane (2008-08-08). "We're ready for our close-up, Mr. Coen(s)". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
- Gado, Mark (1986-11-18). "All about the Woodchipper Murder Case". Crimelibrary.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- Fargo from the Urban Legends Reference Pages
- "(stock photo with location)". Cgstock.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "At last, a real home". Ccht.org. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- J. Pinkley (April 28, 2003). "Kitchen of Kemp, Melroe home". startribune.com. Archived from the original on 2007-10-22. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
- Fargo (1996) – Filming locations.
- McMacken, Robin (May 9, 2004). "North Dakota: Where the accent is on friendship". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- Laura Randall (March 26, 2004). "She Accentuates Film Performances". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- Chris Hewitt (October 19, 2005). "Forget `Fargo' – actors put accent on Minnesota realism". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- "Fargo Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Uk.rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "Fargo (1996): Reviews". Metacritic.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "Memo to the Academy". Siskel & Ebert. Aired on January 18, 1997.
- Ebert, Roger (March 8, 1996). "Fargo". Chicago Sun-Times (Sun-Times Media Group). Retrieved March 31, 2010.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
- "Soundtrack Details: Fargo". SoundtrackCollector.com. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- Braxton, Jonathan. "Fargo/Barton Fink". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- Ty burr (May 2, 1999). "SUMMER FILMS: SYNERGY; A Few Words in Defense of Swag". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010 December 9.
- IMDB Fargo DVD Information
- "Television: Reruns; Edie Falco in 'Fargo,' and Other Gems You Never Saw". New York Times. 31 August 2003. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- Andreeva, Nellie (2012-09-21). "FX Teams With Joel & Ethan Coen And Noah Hawley For Series Adaptation Of 'Fargo'". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Fargo|
- Fargo at the Internet Movie Database
- Fargo at AllRovi
- Fargo at Box Office Mojo
- Fargo at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Woodchipper in Fargo Exhibit - An exhibit in Fargo, ND featuring the original movie prop wood chipper and memorabilia from the film. Located at the Fargo, ND visitors center.