Brutally Cold

Another Movie Review

I used to work with a French guy named Gerard, and he has this fabulous DVD collection. He lent this to me, and I watched it once but never obtained a copy of my own. Now it’s on Amazon Prime, and I watched it again and captured some screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s Fargo, “written, produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.” The movie starts out in Fargo, North Dakota, where it picks up its title and never returns. Opening titles roll over a snowy whiteout as an automobile salesman trailers a new Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera to a meet-up with two hardened criminals.

Full disclosure: In an earlier life I worked through two winters in Syracuse, New York, and fifteen years ago I spent a few days in February in Minneapolis. It is to my amazement that those people don’t spend all their waking hours figuring out how to get out of those places. The movie cheerfully glosses over this grim reality.

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The deal is this. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is head of sales at his father-in-law’s (Wade Gustafson, played by Harve Presnell) car dealership. Apparently he has been dealing off the books, because he’s desperate for money. He wants Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) and hold her for ransom. His father-in-law will pay the ransom, Jerry will pay off the crooks with the new Ciera and $40,000 out of the ransom. He will pocket the difference and cover his shortages at the dealership. Bad idea. And that’s what this plot is all about.

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And I’m not going to diagnose the plot—just summarize.

The crooks break (literally) into Jerry’s house and drag Jean off, bundled in the back seat of the Ciera.

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Yeah, that doesn’t work out. Nobody thought to put the dealer plates on the new car, and outside Brainerd, Minnesota, home of Paul Bunyan, a state trooper stops them. Things don’t go well, and Grimsrud shoots the trooper in the head. Then he chases down and murders two witnesses who happen to be passing by.

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That calls up Brainerd Police Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), married to another cop on the force and seven months pregnant. She figures out there were two culprits involved in the triple homicide and sets off to solve the crime.

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As that proceeds, Wade Gustafson insists on doing the ransom payoff—it’s his $1 million. Showalter gets belligerent, Jerry was supposed to be bringing the money. Wade gets belligerent right back, and Showalter shoots him in the gut. Wade then shoots Showalter in the face, and Showalter kills Wade with multiple shots. He also murders the parking lot attendant, who has the temerity to asks for his parking ticket.

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Jerry arrives, sees the dead ticket agent and the dead father-in-law. He packs Wade’s body into the trunk of his car and disposes of it to keep police from following up and discovering his complicity.

But Chief Marge is persistent and shows up at the dealership for additional questions. Jerry panics and bolts the interview. That sets off the alarm in Marge’s head, and the plot begins to unravel.

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Showalter splits out $80, 000 from the loot and stashes the remainder beside a fence alongside a snow-swept highway. He returns to the cabin hideout where Grimsrud has murdered Jean because she was making too much of a fuss. There is a dispute over the Ciera, and Grimsrud applies an ax to Showalter’s head and is stuffing the last of his body into a wood chipper when Marge happens on the scene and puts an immediate halt to the grim business. Her second shot drops Grimsrud onto the frozen lake surface, and she takes him prisoner, remarking how people can be so cruel and and uncaring on such a beautiful day.

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People, it’s cold as a witches tit, and the whole countryside is covered in snow. What kind of thinking is that.

It’s the end of the line for Jerry, as well, as police run him down and haul him away. Marge and her husband finish up the day remarking on the great news that the bird painting he has presented will appear on the three-cent stamp.

This movie’s juxtaposition of everyday banality with callous disregard for human life is its draw. The depths of human depravity show as a shadow cast by the mundane characters of Marge and Jerry.

Fargo holds a 94% approval rating and 8.6/10 average on Rotten Tomatoes based on 84 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”.

Gerard, not accustomed to the American idiom, asked about the accents spoken in the film. I told him they were supposed to be Swedish, only exaggerated. Minnesota is the site of a huge Swedish settlement from the 19th century. Europeans are constantly impressed by the clusters of European culture in the United States.

There are some additional works by the Coen brothers, and I’m going to be reviewing some of them shortly. Keep reading.

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About John Blanton

I'm a retired engineer living in San Antonio, Texas. I have served in the Navy, raced motorcycles, taken scads of photos and am usually a nice guy. I have political and religious opinions, and these opinions tend to be driven by an excess of observed stupidity. Gross stupidity is the supposed target of many of my posts.
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