English, French, Spanish, Czech, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Dutch, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Croatian, Commentary - English
2 Theatrical trailer
Featurette - Minnesota Nice
MGM/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 94 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
They (whoever “they” may actually be) say that truth is stranger than fiction, an adage which Fargo well and truly proves. Or does it?
For beyond the film’s opening warning that this is indeed a work based on fact, a story that manages to be almost simultaneously completely unbelievable and also so out-there that it’s conceivable the events which unfold actually could happen unfurls itself amongst the vast, snow-encrusted, almost tundra-like setting of the American Midwest. It’s here that one Jerry Windegaard (William H. Macy),
Would you buy a ve-hic-le from this man?
a living embodiment of the car salesman stereotype if ever there was one, is hatching big plans. Requiring a hefty chunk of quick cash and certainly no stranger to shonky financial dealings, he’s come up with the idea of hiring two goons to kidnap his wife, with the intention of splitting the ransom money to be gained from his rich father-in-law with them.
In possession of a shiny new, burnt umber ve-hic-le, the two goons – Carl (the funny looking in a general kind of way, decidedly garrulous Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (a Nordic ice-king with a propensity for silence) – set about their task, and right from the outset things start to go a tad haywire. When they murder a state trooper and a couple of witnesses also go bye-bye in a kind of execution-type deal, and Jerry’s rather gung-ho father-in-law decides to take an active role in saving his daughter, it becomes glaringly obvious that things just won’t go as smoothly as the hapless Windegaard had hoped. Ah, but he’s a smart cookie (erm, right), so he’ll simply re-jig the plans – just as long as no cops are involved, yah?
But a cop does become involved, in the very pregnant form of one Margie Gunderson (the sublime Frances McDormand). The finest constabulary representative local town Brainerd (home of Paul Bunyan!) has to offer, she actually is a smart cookie, and is soon hot on the heels of our trio of naughty boys, and about the only person involved in this whole thing who’s immune from watching their lives going decidedly pear-shaped – or in one case even pureed…
They’ve brought us everything from tales of kidnapping to mob sagas, bowling stories and odes to the joy of hula-hoops, and despite their brilliant way of taking whatever the hell they want as a story basis, Joel and Ethan Coen always manage one thing – to imbue their work with a certain, erm, ‘Coen-ness’ which gives it a decidedly unique, often bleak, world view. Fargo is no exception, and it is most certainly the flick which brought them a greater recognition from the general public, helped substantially by nabbing two well-deserved Oscars (McDormand for ‘Best Actress’ and the Coens themselves for ‘Best Original Screenplay’) as well as five other nominations. Let there be no mistake, this is a particularly black little film, and despite disturbingly marvellous comedic overtones at times the viewer never feels particularly comfy letting loose with the old guffaws (well, certain sickos out there may disagree, but we’ll give the benefit of the doubt…) Despite Fargo’s inherent inkyness, however, there is a shining beacon of simply beautiful heart which gives one of the greatest flicks of the past ten years a charming well-roundedness – McDormand’s unspeakably brilliant portrayal of the sweet but tenacious Margie. Surrounded by fabulous performances all round, notably Buscemi lapping up his chance at playing a major character after many Coen bit parts, if you’ve never been fortunate enough to experience the world of the Coens, then this is by far the best place to start.
Perhaps slightly curiously, Fargo comes to us in a 16:9 enhanced, 1.78:1 ratio (although technically it’s closer to 1.79:1). To those viewing on standard 4:3 TVs it will look more like the original cinematic ratio of 1.85:1, however, as it has allowed for overscan on the left and right sides of the frame.
Fargo - the Sinclair Spectrum computer game...
Getting past the overly nerdy stuff for the more important information, this transfer is really super. After a slightly wobbly start with a few fine speckles, things quickly settle down to offer a print that is remarkably clean, save for the very odd unwanted little blot on rare occasions, and a bit of grain in some of the outdoor scenes. Blacks are superb, as is the very (purposely) muted colouring of the film, which veers on the monochromatic at times. The layer change is well placed in a fade to black, although it is noticeable due to the audio cutting out briefly. In all, the often breathtakingly simple yet beautiful cinematography of Roger Deakins comes to life (as such) superbly here, and any fan is certain to be rapt – especially any who bore witness to the travesty that was the original local release from Polygram a few years ago.
Aw geez, there had to be a bugbear though. For some of us this is a biggie, as the original location titles have been removed from the film in favour of using player generated ones – a very bad habit that MGM seem to persist with. Once again it has cost them marks – this is not how the film was intended to be seen by its makers.
The film’s audio has been manipulated into Dolby Digital 5.1, however if you’re expecting things to be all whiz-bang-thump-wallop then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Mind you, this is hardly the sort of film which requires such things, and the soundtrack we get is very effective nonetheless.
I distinctly asked for no ketchup!
Most of the action is firmly up-front, in fact almost all the dialogue emanates from the centre speaker regardless of where people are on-screen. The rears offer up some score support, as well as piping up a little for a few effects here and there. The subwoofwoof is given little to get all whoa daddy about, with just the odd addition of oomph to Carter Burwell’s magnificently apt score, and the very occasional thud added to sound effects that require them.
As well as Burwell’s score, there’s a typically eclectic selection of popular tunes scattered haphazardly throughout, ranging from muzak versions of some standards to Boy George’s take on Nancy Sinatra’s sublime These Boots are Made For Walkin’.
More often than not discs afforded the title ‘Special Edition’ quite simply aren’t (ah, those pesky marketing folk…) Great news is that if you’re into generous side dishes of bonus goodies then you’re set for a treat here, which is signposted from the very beginning by some of the most simple yet stunning menus you’re ever likely to see on a little shiny disc.
Ice ice baby...
First up is a commentary from regular Coen director of photography Roger Deakins. Not exactly the most forthcoming bloke out there, his commentary features increasingly annoying expanses of silence plus a tendency to repetitiveness at times at times at times, however these are punctuated by snippets of information which manage to be interesting without resorting to full-on, boring techy-ness – such as regularly bemoaning a lack of snow. Hmm, perhaps he needs a new dealer? Working beautifully in tandem with this is one of those delightfully natty little trivia tracks which MGM are so brilliant at delivering. Bombarding the screen in little coloured boxes, it regularly lives up to its name while delving into the virtually banal, then delivers just as many pearls of fascinating film-based information, making it a must view for any Fargo fan.
A fantastic documentary follows in Minnesota Nice (27:46). Cobbled together just this year, it features interviews with the principal cast as well as Joel and Ethan, combined with on-set stills and behind the scenes footage and generous chunks of filmic vision. Anything but another boring, fluffy, EPK-styled piece of pledget, we’re privy to great insights into everything from the various folks’ thoughts on working with the Coens, working on Fargo and a number of great personal stories. Also, if you ever think yourself sad and stupid, you should find much solace in learning that one tragic person actually trekked to the real mid-western town of Fargo in order to find the money Carl buried. Who said the whole thing was too-farfetched?! An interview (20:30) with the Coens and Frances McDormand ensues, hosted by the slightly annoying Charlie Rose and taken from said critic’s self-titled show. There are some well thought-out answers from the brothers, and fans of the incredible Raising Arizona get a little to munch on as well.
A rather unique bonus follows, in The Coen Brothers Family Tree. Presented as a massive cross-stitch, it is much as it suggests, listing 25 Coen-related actors, the films in which they appeared and the characters they played. A 40-page magazine article from American Cinematographer is also included, concentrating on Roger Deakins’ work, and as such quite technical in nature. Two theatrical trailers are here as well, both decently presented in enhanced 1.85:1 ratios (2:03 and 1:57 respectively), plus a 30 second TV spot and finally a gallery which consists mostly of behind the scenes stills. There are 70 in all; however they’re all quite small, presented as they are in a little break in the ice at the centre of the screen.
While the Coens consistently manage to explore new avenues with great aplomb and a unique inventiveness, Fargo still stands as their crowning glory. Stripped to its simplest essence it’s basically a curiously captivating battle of good versus evil, and a vital experience for any fan of cinema, presented here for the most part in really super fashion on this newly released ‘Special Edition’ which should be snapped up in a jiff – you betcha, yah!
Oh, and it wasn’t based on a true story, Joel and Ethan just wanted to mess with peoples’ heads… even more than usual.
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "