A Noir Dressed In White

I always considered the setting of Fargo to be one of noir’s most unique locations.

A twisted home-cooked crime story coated in cold-blooded murders surrounded by bright, white snow. A contrasting set of themes if I’ve ever seen one.

Film noir is supposed to take place in rain-drenched cities, glossy Hollywood or dilapidated urban locations. Not Minnesota.  A noir’s ambiguous main character is supposed to exude a sort of confidence and be handsome enough to get the femme fetale. Not Jerry Lundegaard, a bumbling husband who can’t get it right. The detective is supposed to be slick, a smooth talker. Not Marge Gunderson, a pregnant woman with morning sickness.

There’s so many bizarre qualities to Fargo, one of the Coen Brother’s best films, that dissecting those notions alone is enough to keep you coming back for more. What also pleases is the style. Jerry (William H. Macy)  plans to have his wife kidnapped by two scumbags (played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) so he can get the ransom money from his father-in-law, who doesn’t think that much of Jerry. Things don’t go right.

Sure, Fargo isn’t film noir in the most conventional sense of the genre. But in its heart it is. Every Coen Brother’s film excels in the same areas: writing, cinematography and performance. There’s more to it, but I’ve found this to be the key to all their greatest hits. They write great characters, pen ridiculously impeccable dialogue and get the performances from their carefully cast coral of actors to make the words they write mean something.

Fargo‘s never-ending legacy will be the way the Coen’s decided to portray the areas natives. Ya. Yer darn tootin’ they’d be a little annoyed up north, okay? The Coen’s make a mockery out of their characters – although Marge Gunderson shows a surprisingly high aptitude for her job as a small-town police chief. Even so, she displays sharp skills with an unnervingly stupid and exaggerated accent and her prowler needs a jump by her husband before she can head off to investigate a few murders.

Back to the Coen Brother success formula: cinematography. Enlisted for help once again is the great Roger Deakins, a man who has been robbed of more Oscars than a 7-11 has been robbed of a candy bar. Deakins makes a point of the film’s location. Beautiful wide shots capture the areas emptiness, coldness and lack of life. It’s a slow-moving world and the film is kind of solved in a slow-moving fashion. It all adds up. Deakins’ eye is about as good as they come these days, maybe he’ll get his Oscar soon (he’s been nominated nine times!).

With all Coen films, there’s almost too much to love in Fargo. The film is dark, the story is twisted and the humor is unsettlingly funny.

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