Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joel Coen|
|Produced by||Ethan Coen|
|Music by||Carter Burwell|
|Edited by||Roderick Jaynes|
|Distributed by||Gramercy Pictures|
|Box office||$60.6 million|
Fargo is a 1996 American dark comedy crime thriller film written, produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant Minnesota police chief investigating roadside homicides that ensue after a struggling car salesman (William H. Macy) hires two criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife in order to extort a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law (Harve Presnell).
Fargo premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival where Joel Coen won the festival's Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director Award) and the film was nominated for the Palme d'Or. A critical and commercial success, Fargo received seven nominations at the 69th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won two awards: McDormand won Best Actress and the Coens won Best Writing (Original Screenplay).
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", making it one of six films to have been preserved in their first year of eligibility. The American Film Institute named it one of the 100 greatest American movies of all time in 1998.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Reception
- 5 Awards and honors
- 6 Soundtrack
- 7 Home video releases
- 8 Television series
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
In the winter of 1987, Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) is desperate for money; repayment is due on a large GMAC loan that he fraudulently collateralized with nonexistent dealership vehicles. Dealership mechanic Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis), an ex-convict, refers him to an old partner in crime, Gaear Grimsrud (Stormare). Jerry travels to Fargo, North Dakota, where he hires Gaear and Carl Showalter (Buscemi) to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd), and extort a ransom from his wealthy father-in-law and boss, Wade Gustafson (Presnell). He gives the men a new car from his dealership's lot, and promises to split the $80,000 ransom with them.
Back in Minneapolis, Jerry pitches Gustafson a lucrative real estate deal; when Gustafson agrees to front the money, Jerry attempts to call off the kidnapping, but it is already in motion. Then, he learns that Gustafson plans to make the deal himself, leaving Jerry a paltry finder's fee. Carl and Gaear kidnap Jean in Minneapolis as planned. While transporting her to their remote cabin hideout, a state trooper pulls them over outside Brainerd, Minnesota for driving without the required temporary tags over the dealership plates. After Carl tries and fails to bribe the trooper, Gaear kills him. When two passing eyewitnesses spot Carl disposing of the body, Gaear kills them as well.
The following morning, Brainerd police chief Marge Gunderson (McDormand), who is seven months pregnant, initiates a homicide investigation. Records from the murdered trooper's last traffic stop, along with a phone call to Proudfoot, placed at a local truck stop by two suspicious men, lead her to Jerry's dealership, where she questions Jerry and Proudfoot. While in Minneapolis, Marge reconnects with Mike Yanagita (Steve Park), an old classmate who takes her to dinner, tells her that his wife, another classmate, has died, and attempts to seduce her.
Jerry informs Gustafson and his accountant, Stan Grossman (Larry Brandenburg), that the kidnappers have demanded $1 million, and will deal only through him. Meanwhile, Carl, in light of the unanticipated complication of three murders, demands that Jerry hand over the entire ransom (which he still believes is $80,000); and GMAC gives Jerry 24 hours to repay their loan or face legal consequences.
When the time comes for the money drop, Gustafson decides to deal with the kidnappers himself. At the pre-arranged drop point in a parking garage, he refuses to hand over the cash-filled briefcase to Carl until his daughter is returned. Carl kills Gustafson, takes the briefcase, and flees, but not before taking a bullet in the jaw from Gustafson. When he opens the briefcase, Carl is astounded to discover far more than the anticipated $80,000. He removes that amount to split with Gaear, then stashes the rest, intending to return for it later and keep it for himself. At the hideout, he discovers that Gaear has killed Jean. After a heated argument over who gets the new car that Jerry gave them, Gaear kills Carl as well.
During a phone conversation with a mutual friend, Marge learns that Yanagita's dead wife was never his wife, nor is she dead, and that Yanagita is the perpetrator behind a long series of anonymous harassments. Reflecting on Yanagita's treachery and convincing lies, Marge returns to the car dealership and re-questions Jerry, who refuses to cooperate. When she asks to speak to Gustafson, Jerry panics and flees the dealership. After returning to Brainerd, Marge drives to Moose Lake, where she recognizes the dealership car from the dead trooper's description. She finds Gaear feeding the last of Carl's body into a wood chipper. He tries to escape, but Marge shoots him in the leg and arrests him. Meanwhile, North Dakota police track Jerry to a motel outside Bismarck, where he is arrested while attempting to escape through a bathroom window.
That night, Marge and her husband, Norm (John Carroll Lynch), discuss Norm's mallard painting, which has been selected as the design for a US postage stamp. Marge is very proud of his achievement, and the two happily anticipate the birth of their child.
- 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
- Gary Houston as Irate Customer
- Sally Wingert as Irate Customer's Wife
- Steve Reevis as Shep Proudfoot
- Warren Keith as Reilly Diefenbach (voice)
- Larry Brandenburg as Stan Grossman
- J. Todd Anderson as Victim in Field (credited as a modification of the Love Symbol character, the symbol used at that time by Prince)
- John Carroll Lynch as Norm Gunderson
- Bruce Bohne as Officer Lou
- Melissa Peterman as Hooker #2
- Steve Park as Mike Yanagita
- Cliff Rakerd as Officer Gary Olson
- José Feliciano as Himself
- Bain Boehlke as Mr. Mohra
- Bruce Campbell as Soap Opera Actor on TV (uncredited)
Factual vs. fictional
Multiple accounts exist regarding the factual (or fictional) basis for Fargo. The film 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.
To resolve this apparent discrepancy, the Coen brothers explained that they based their script on an actual criminal event, but wrote a fictional story around it. "We weren't interested in that kind of fidelity," Joel Coen said. "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."
The brothers have modified their explanation more than once. In 1996, Joel Coen told a reporter that—contrary to the opening graphic—the actual murders were not committed in Minnesota. Many Minnesotans speculated that the story was inspired by T. Eugene Thompson, a St. Paul attorney who was convicted of hiring a man to murder his wife in 1963, near the Coens' hometown of St. Louis Park; but the Coens claimed that they had never heard of Thompson. After Thompson's death in 2015, Joel Coen changed the explanation again: “[The story was] completely made up. Or, as we like to say, the only thing true about it is that it’s a story.”
The film's special edition DVD contains yet another account, that the film was inspired by 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.
Fargo was filmed during the winter of 1995, mainly in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and around the actual town of Brainerd (which was the film's original title). Due to unusually low snowfall totals in central and southern Minnesota that winter, scenes requiring snow-covered landscapes had to be shot in northern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota (though not in Fargo itself).
Jerry's initial meeting with Carl and Gaear was shot at a pool hall and bar called The King of Clubs in the northeast section of Minneapolis. It was later demolished, along with most other buildings on that block of Central Avenue, and replaced by low-income housing. Gustafson's auto dealership was actually Wally McCarthy Oldsmobile in Richfield, a southern suburb of Minneapolis. The site is now occupied by Best Buy's national corporate headquarters. The "Welcome to Brainerd" Paul Bunyan statue was built for the film in the northeast corner of North Dakota, near the Canadian border. (Though several present-day Paul Bunyan statues in Minnesota and North Dakota claim to be associated with Fargo, the one actually used in the movie was dismantled after filming was completed.) The Blue Ox motel/truckstop was Stockmen's Truck Stop in South St. Paul, which is still in business. Ember's, the restaurant where Carl discussed the ransom drop with Gustafson, was located in St. Louis Park, the Coens' hometown; the building now houses a medical outpatient treatment center.
The Lakeside Club, where Marge interviewed the hookers, was a family restaurant—now closed—in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. The kidnappers' Moose Lake hideout actually stood on the shore of Square Lake, near May, Minnesota. The cabin was relocated to Barnes, Wisconsin in 2002. The Edina police station where the interior police headquarters scenes were filmed is still in operation, but has been completely rebuilt. The Carlton Celebrity Room was an actual venue in Bloomington, Minnesota, and José Feliciano did once appear there, but it had been closed for almost ten years when filming began. The Feliciano scene was shot at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre in Chanhassen, near Minneapolis. The ransom drop was filmed in two adjacent parking garages on South 8th Street in downtown Minneapolis. Scenes in the Lundegaards' kitchen were shot in a private home on Pillsbury Avenue in Minneapolis, and the house where Mr. Mohra described the "funny looking little guy" to police is in Hallock, in northwest Minnesota. The motel “outside of Bismarck”, where the police finally catch up with Jerry, is the Hitching Post Motel in Forest Lake, north of Minneapolis.
While none of Fargo was actually filmed in Fargo, the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau exhibits original script copies and several props used in the film, including the wood chipper. After the movie's release, by some accounts, Brainerd was invaded by shovel-toting moviegoers, inspired by the dubious "based-on-a-true-story" announcement in the opening credits, searching for the buried ransom cash.
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 as far east as Rochester, New York. In general, the accent was largely exaggerated.
Fargo holds a 94% approval rating and 8.7/10 average on Rotten Tomatoes based on 87 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Violent, quirky, and darkly funny, Fargo delivers an original crime story and a wonderful performance by McDormand". The film also holds a score of 85 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 24 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both named Fargo the best film 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.
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 first annual Fargo Film Festival screened Fargo by projecting the film onto 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
- Satellite Award for Best Director – Joel Coen
- Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama – Frances McDormand
- 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
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Director – Joel Coen
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead – William H. Macy
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead – Frances McDormand
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay – Joel and Ethan Coen
- 1998 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #84
- 2000 AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #93
- 2003 AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains: Marge Gunderson – #33 Hero
- 2006 National Film Registry
- Academy Award for Best Picture – Ethan Coen
- Academy Award for Director – 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
- BAFTA Award for Best Film
- BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay
- BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
- 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
- Satellite Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama – William H. Macy
- Satellite Award for Best Original Screenplay – Joel and Ethan Coen
- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role – William H. Macy
- Palme D'or
|Fargo/Barton Fink: Music by Carter Burwell|
|Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell|
|Released||May 28, 1996|
|Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology|
Other songs featured in the film include: "Big City" by Merle Haggard, heard in the King of Clubs while Jerry meets with Carl and Gaear, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Boy George plays in the garage as Shep works, and "Let's Find Each Other Tonight" a live nightclub performance by José Feliciano that is viewed by Carl 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. An instrumental version of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" plays during the scene where Marge and Norm are eating at a buffet. The restaurant scene with Mike Yanagita is accompanied by a piano arrangement of "Sometimes in Winter" by Blood, Sweat & Tears. All the songs heard in the film are featured only as background music, usually on a radio, and do not appear on the soundtrack album.
|1.||"Fargo, North Dakota"||2:47|
|3.||"A Lot of Woe"||0:49|
|6.||"The Trooper's End"||1:06|
|7.||"Chewing on It"||0:51|
|9.||"Dance of the Sierra"||1:23|
|12.||"Bismarck, North Dakota"||1:02|
|14.||"The Eager Beaver"||3:10|
Home video releases
- Fargo has been released in several formats: VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes download. The first home video release of the film was on November 19, 1996 on a pan and scan cassette. A collector's edition widescreen VHS was also released and included a snow globe that depicted the woodchipper scene which, when shaken, stirred up both snow and "blood".
- MGM Home Entertainment released Fargo on DVD on July 8, 1997 in a bare-bones edition. A "Special Edition" DVD was released on September 30, 2003. The released featured minor changes to the film, particularly with its subtitles. 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 subtitle 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. The special edition of Fargo was repackaged in several Coen brothers box sets and also as a double feature DVD with other MGM releases.
- A Blu-ray version was released on May 12, 2009 and later in a DVD combo pack in 2010. On April 1, 2014, in commemoration for the 90th anniversary of MGM, the film was remastered in 4K and reissued again on Blu-ray.
In 1997, a pilot was filmed for a television series based on the film. Set in Brainerd shortly after the events of the film, it starred Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson and Bruce Bohne reprising his role as Officer Lou. It was directed by Kathy Bates and featured no involvement from the Coen brothers. The episode finally aired in 2003 during Trio's Brilliant But Cancelled series of failed TV shows.
A TV series inspired by the film, with the Coens as executive producers, debuted on FX in April 2014. The first season received high acclaim from critics and audiences. Existing in the same fictional universe as the film with each season featuring a different story, cast, and era. The episode "Eating the Blame" reintroduces the buried ransom money for a minor three-episode subplot.
- Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter—a film about a young Japanese woman who fixates on Fargo, believing the events it depicts to be real
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- Dwyer, M. "Lepage Leaps Into the Limelight". The Irish Times (May 31, 1996), p. 11.
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- Chris Hewitt (October 19, 2005). "Forget `Fargo' – actors put accent on Minnesota realism". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- Fargo at Rotten Tomatoes
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- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. 1998. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2000. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2003. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
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