I've only seen a few of the Coen Brothers films, but already I see a clear trend emerging. They make excellent films, but not the kind I find myself wanting to watch over and over. 'Fargo', one of the more celebrated of the Coen Brothers' already illustrious oeuvre, adheres to that trend.
'Fargo' tells the story of a man named Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) who arranges for two goons (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife, with the aim being to get his rich father-in-law to pay the ransom money that he will then split with the kidnappers. Of course things go horribly and hilariously wrong, and Jerry's plans begin to unravel spectacularly when the goons leave a trail of bodies behind them, a trail that is picked up on by shrewd (and very pregnant) small town police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand).
Most of the events take place in small town locales and revolve around Jerry, Marge, and the kidnappers. Despite the subject matter and the fact that everything is played straight tonally, the film is very, very funny. The humour derives from the situations, the characters, and the milieu, with the small town aesthetic being a constant source of amusement (Yar? Yaaar!). The story if full of twists and turns and is generally quite unpredictable. The writing, directing and performances achieve that fine balance between realistic and absurd and maintain it throughout the film's running time. While there isn't much depth to the characters, the storyline serves as a reflection on the baseness of human nature when people are driven by greed, while at the same time providing a counterpoint in the form of Marge, who is an intelligent and decent person who appreciates the simple things in life (like a good buffet).
The performances are great across the board, but the standout is William H. Macy as the hapless Jerry who is foiled at every turn and whose every move seems to get him deeper and deeper into trouble. Despite the nature of what he's doing, Macy manages to make the character sympathetic and I found him to be the most likable person in the story! Steve Buscemi is, as always, devastatingly funny but in a sinister way. Stormare on the other hand is completely sinister and appears to be on the verge of violence at any given time (which is actually perversely funny in its own way). And then there's McDormand as the tenacious Marge, who somehow manages to merge 'small town goof' with 'genius detective' and sell the character as someone completely believable. The rest of the supporting cast are also terrific and serve the story well.
'Fargo' is a small scale drama that is entertaining, funny, idiosyncratic, and thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Though it isn't exactly the type of film that I love, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it - it's deserving of anyone's time.