I must admit right off the bat that Fargo is my favorite Coen brother film. I know I'm not alone when I say that, and why not? It's a nearly flawless film with dark humor, great dialog, real characters, and bizarre situations. What's not to like?
Jerry Lundergaard (William H. Macy) is in a pinch. He needs cash for money making venture, so he schemes up a way to get it: have his wife (Kristin Rudrüd) kidnapped, get his evil father-in-law (Harve Presnell) to pay the ransom, and split the money with the kidnappers. Of course, nothing goes according to plan and Jerry is quickly digging himself out of one mess after another.
Jerry may be a bumbling fool, but it's hard not to root for the guy. Sure, he's doing the wrong thing, but he's always trying. Despite setback after setback, he never gives up. You want him to fail, but you also want him to succeed, at least once, which makes every new mistake funnier and more depressing at the same time.
In a way, I empathize with Jerry's attempt to get ahead because he's real. As are all the characters in this film. But it's more than just the way they speak (which, let's admit, is pretty darn funny). From the dialect, clothing, and bland locations, this is middle-class America. I feel it in every scene.
I feel it's this reality that, in part, makes Fargo so funny. It's a dark humor that arises from the bizarre situations these real people find themselves in. It's discomforting to watch these events unravel, particularly the violence, which for one reason or another lends itself to humor. Watching the tension grow between talkative kidnapper, Carl (Steve Buscemi), and the quiet Gaear (Peter Stormare), is funny because you can't wait to see how they screw up, which you know they'll do, not once, but many times.
Whereas Jerry, Carl, and Gaear are the inept criminals, Marge (Frances McDormand) is the rock. She's the small town sheriff who quietly does her job—and does it well. She's also pregnant, which is perfect since it lends itself perfectly to the slightly off kilter film as she hunts down the kidnappers after a violent turn of events on the highway. Naturally, it wouldn't be a Coen brother film is she, too, wasn't thrust into some of her own odd situations, such as meeting a high school classmate for lunch only to find him overly forward in his flirting.
Perhaps the best part of this film (and most Coen brother films, actually) is the dialog. It's nearly impossible to watch this film without quoting two or three lines for the rest of the week. It's memorable because it's funny. It's funny because it's real. Everything said in Fargo is exactly what would've been said had the events in this film actually occurred (which they didn't).
The Coen's are masters of their craft. They know how to pull together an amazing cast, give them colorful characters, throw them into bizarre situations, and see what happens. In the case of Fargo, the result is a perfectly entertaining film.
MGM presents Fargo in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen televisions (you also get a full frame version on the other side of the disc). This is NOT the same transfer as the last MGM release (see below). Colors, blacks, and skin tones are all perfect, and detail reaches well into the shadows. This isn't a flashy movie, so you won't see anything really bright or vibrant, but what you do get looks very sharp. There are some issues with compression, but nothing major that would detract from the overall look of the image. Great stuff.
EDITED: I spent an hour looking closely at the new FARGO DVD in comparison with the MGM version released a few years ago. Upon very close inspection, I did notice that the new DVD does indeed have a new transfer. Although very similar, the new DVD has slightly better color, particularly the blacks, and a little more crispness.
For example, one improvement is found in the first few moments of Chapter 4. On the earlier release, several specks of white are seen as the car moves across the screen (check the lower right corner, just above the car). These specks are most definitely not on the new transfer. As far as I could tell, these specks are found throughout the old version but don't exist on the new one.
Face it, Fargo is a movie filled with dialog, so you can't expect a workout from you speakers. But what you do get from this solid 5.1 Dolby Digital track is clean, crisp vocals. The subdued music sounds perfect and truly sets the mood, however, rears are used sparingly at best so you don't get much more than ambiance. There is fine separation here and no major problems to note.
This disc also includes a French track and subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Fargo finally gets the special edition treatment. Luckily, it's closer to the holy grail fans were hoping for than the fluff piece some might have expected. It's got some great stuff, actually, and some stuff that I couldn't even find (the "hidden" link to a separate menu is easy to find, the extra goodies are not).
Easily the most enjoyable segment of this disc (aside from the film, obviously) is the new documentary, Minnesota Nice. This 30-minute documentary features a retrospective look at Fargo with interviews of the cast and filmmakers. I've never laughed so hard listening to interviews. Hearing the cast discuss how nice people are in the Minnesota area or how Stormare thought there was a typo in the script is downright hilarious. This will be one documentary that I watch again.
Another great interview piece is the Charlie Rose Show clip that features the Coen brothers and McDormand. Hearing them discuss the likelihood of the brothers making a film that actually makes money and earns critical acclaim is sort of ironic since Fargo won several Academy Awards.
You can also view the movie with an audio commentary by director of photography Roger A. Deakins or with a text trivia track. The commentary is fairly technical and rarely strays from information about camera placement and lighting. It has a fair amount of dead space and is neither dull nor particularly entertaining. The trivia track, however, is loaded with weird information, from the number of McDonald's in the world (about 28,000) to Stormare's thoughts on becoming a priest prior to becoming an actor. I never thought I could learn something by watching a Coen brother's film, but that day has come.
Also on tap is a very interesting American Cinematographer magazine article about Roger Deakins, a full frame TV spot, a trailer, and a photo gallery that oddly enough has several photos shown more than once.
The Fargo DVD offers animated menus that showcase static imagery from the film and feature sounds of an artic wind (brrrrr). Perhaps the coolest look is shown on the secondary menu, found only by accessing a hidden icon. I won't ruin the surprise, but these secondary menus offer some fun images that might be of interest to those who purchased the limited edition VHS some years back.
If you never bought one of the previous lackluster DVD editions of Fargo now's the time to do it. If you did buy one or both of them, it's time to upgrade. Although not perfect, the extra features are worth the $20 you'll be spending on this new disc. And for those who have never seen this film, you owe it to yourself to change that as soon as you can.