Fargo (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen
Written by
  • Joel Coen
  • Ethan Coen
Starring Frances McDormand
William H. Macy
Steve Buscemi
Harve Presnell
Peter Stormare
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Roderick Jaynes
Distributed by Gramercy Pictures
Release dates
  • March 8, 1996 (1996-03-08) (United States)
  • May 31, 1996 (1996-05-31) (United Kingdom)
Running time
98 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom[2]
  • United States[2]
Language English
Budget $7 million[3]
Box office $60.6 million[3]

Fargo is a 1996 American neo-noir black comedy crime thriller written, produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant Minnesota police chief investigating roadside homicides that ensue after a struggling car salesman (William H. Macy) hires two criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife in order to extort a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law (Harve Presnell).

Fargo premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival where Joel Coen won the festival's Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director Award) and the film was nominated for the Palme d'Or.[4] A critical and commercial success, Fargo received seven nominations at the 69th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won two awards: McDormand won Best Actress and the Coens won Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

In 2006, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and inducted into the United States National Film Registry for preservation, making it one of six films to have been preserved in their first year of eligibility.[5] The American Film Institute named it one of the 100 greatest American movies of all time in 1998.

The film was followed by the critically acclaimed FX television series created and written by Noah Hawley, with the Coen brothers acting as executive producers.[6]


In 1987, Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard is desperate for money. Shep Proudfoot, an ex-convict, gives him a name; he travels to Fargo, North Dakota, where he hires Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud to kidnap his wife, Jean, and ransom her for $80,000 from his wealthy father-in-law and boss, Wade Gustafson. In return, Lundegaard will give Showalter and Grimsrud a new 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, and half of the ransom money. In reality, Lundegaard plans to demand far more money from his father-in-law, with the intention of keeping the bulk of it for himself.

Lundegaard gets phone calls from GMAC about an unpaid loan for sold vehicles from the dealership. These vehicles do not exist, as he is scamming GMAC. He also tries to convince Gustafson to lend him $750,000 for a real estate deal. When Gustafson shows interest, Lundegaard tries to call off the kidnapping, but is too late: Showalter and Grimsrud are already driving to Minneapolis. Lundegaard then discovers Gustafson will only give him a paltry finder's fee.

Showalter and Grimsrud arrive in Minneapolis and kidnap Lundegaard's wife. However, on the way to their cabin hideout, they are stopped by a state trooper outside Brainerd, Minnesota. Grimsrud shoots and kills the trooper after Showalter fails to bribe him, and then shoots and kills a couple who saw the incident. The next morning, local police chief, Marge Gunderson, who is seven months pregnant, investigates the homicides. After being informed that the criminals telephoned Proudfoot from the truck stop, she drives to Minneapolis. While visiting Minneapolis, Marge reconnects with an old classmate, Mike Yanagita, who unsuccessfully tries to seduce her during dinner. The next morning, she is preparing to return to Brainerd when a high school girlfriend tells her that everything Mike said was a lie.[7] Lundegaard contacts Gustafson and his accountant Stan Grossman, and tells them that the "kidnappers", who are supposedly demanding $1,000,000, will only speak to Lundegaard. In light of the murders, Showalter demands that Lundegaard must give the criminals what he believes to be the entire $80,000 ransom. GMAC also informs Lundegaard that he has 24 hours to pay the loan before they contact their legal department. When the time comes for the money drop, Gustafson decides to deal with them himself.

Showalter phones Lundegaard, demanding he make the drop that night at a parking garage. However, Gustafson drives off with the ransom in his briefcase. At the drop, he refuses to hand it over until his daughter is returned. Showalter kills Gustafson, but not before being shot in the face. Lundegaard arrives at the scene and puts Wade's body in his trunk. The next day, Showalter discovers the $1,000,000 in the briefcase. Showalter removes $80,000 to split with Grimsrud, and buries the rest in the snow alongside the highway. On returning to the hideout, Showalter discovers that Grimsrud has killed Lundegaard's wife. The two criminals argue over the car, and Grimsrud kills Showalter.

Marge Gunderson questions Lundegaard again, and asks to speak to Gustafson. Lundegaard panics and flees the dealership, and Marge contacts the state police. Following up on a tip, Marge drives to Moose Lake and spots the stolen car. She finds Grimsrud feeding the last of Showalter's body into a wood chipper. He tries to escape, but Marge shoots him in the leg and arrests him. A saddened Marge asks Grimsrud why he committed the crimes, telling him there is more to life than money. Later, Lundegaard is tracked to a motel outside Bismarck, North Dakota, where he is subdued and arrested while attempting to escape through a bathroom window.

That night, Marge Gunderson and her husband, Norm, sit in bed together discussing Norm's mallard painting, which has been selected as the design for a US postage stamp. Norm is disappointed that it will appear only on the 3¢ stamp, but Marge is very proud of his achievement. The two hold each other close, happily anticipating the birth of their child in two months' time.



Factual basis

Fargo opens with the following text:

THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.

And the end credits bear the standard "all persons fictitious" disclaimer for a work of fiction.[8]

Although the film's plot is completely fictional, the Coen brothers claimed that the movie was based on a conglomeration of real criminal events. Joel Coen noted:

We weren't interested in that kind of fidelity. The basic events are the same as in the real case, but the characterizations are fully imagined ... If an audience believes that something's based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept.[9]

At first the Coens claimed the actual murders took place, just not in their home state of Minnesota.[10] The Coens were born and raised in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis.[11] Some Minnesotans suspected that the case was based in part on that of T. Eugene Thompson; he hired a hit man, in 1963, to kill his wife and collect on her life insurance policy. However, Joel Coen stated in an interview at the time of Thompson's death in 2015 that the film's story is completely made up.[12]

On the trivia track of the film's special edition DVD, it is stated that the movie was inspired by the infamous 1986 murder of Helle Crafts from Connecticut at the hands of her husband, Richard, who disposed of her body through a wood chipper.[13]


Principal photography on Fargo began on January 25, 1995 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. However, due to the region's unusually mild winter that year, the crew moved locations on March 9 to Hallock, Minnesota to find more suitably snow-covered landscapes for the film's winter setting. A second unit under the direction of Roger Deakins filmed near Bathgate, North Dakota where the film's Paul Bunyan statue was constructed.[14] Despite the film's title, no scenes were filmed in or near Fargo, North Dakota.

Filming locations used during production include:

  • King of Clubs, the bar shown at the beginning of the film where Lundegaard met the kidnappers, was located in Northeast Minneapolis on Central Avenue.[15] It has since been razed and is now Clare Housing for people with HIV.[16]
  • The Pillsbury Ave., Minneapolis home of Doug Melroe and Denny Kemp includes the kitchen of the Lundegaards' house.[17]
  • Wally McCarthy Oldsmobile was used for Gustafson Automotive and was located in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, off Interstate 494 and Penn Avenue. The dealership has since relocated to Roseville and the site is currently Best Buy's corporate headquarters.
  • Stockman's Truck Stop in South St. Paul was used as the Blue Ox Motel.
  • Ember's was a restaurant located on the frontage road (S. Wayzata Blvd.) of Interstate 394 in St. Louis Park. The location is now out of business and the building has been razed; it is now the location of DaVita Westwood Hills Dialysis.
  • The kidnappers' hideout cabin was located on Square Lake in May, Minnesota. In 2002, it was sold and relocated to Barnes, Wisconsin.
  • The former Edina Police Station was used for interior shots of the Brainerd Police Station.[14]
  • The Lakeside Club, where Marge interviews the hookers, is in Mahtomedi.
  • Carl steals a license plate from the parking lot of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
  • Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington was used for the José Feliciano concert.
  • The Minneapolis Club Parking Ramp (located on S. 8th St. and 3rd Ave S.) was used for the scene wherein Wade delivers the money to Carl. The end of the scene, where Carl exits the parking garage, was actually shot at a different garage down the street – the Centre Village Parking Ramp (located at S. 8th St. and 5th Ave S.).
  • Mr. Mohra's home was filmed on the corner of 3rd Street and Bryan Avenue in Hallock, Minnesota. Hwy 175 west of Hallock served as the location of the homicide crime scene.[14]
  • The Hitching Post Motel, in Forest Lake, was used as the Bismarck motel when Jerry is arrested.


The film's use of "Minnesota nice" and a "singsong" regional accent are remembered years later, with locals fielding requests to say "Yah, you betcha," and other lines from the movie.[18] According to the film's dialect coach, Liz Himelstein, "the accent was another character." She coached the cast using audio tapes and field trips.[19] Another dialogue coach, Larissa Kokernot (who appeared onscreen playing a prostitute), notes that the "small-town, Minnesota accent is close to the sound of the Nords and the Swedes," which is "where the musicality comes from." She also helped McDormand understand Minnesota nice and the practice of head-nodding to show agreement.[20] The strong accent of Jerry and Marge is less common in the Twin Cities, where over 60% of the state's population lives. Speakers from Minneapolis and St. Paul are more characterized by the Northern cities vowel shift, which is also found in other places in the Northern United States as far east as Rochester, New York. In general, the accent was largely exaggerated.


Critical response

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".[21] The film also holds a score of 85 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 24 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[22]

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both named Fargo the best film of 1996. It was also Ebert's fourth favorite of the 1990s.[23] In his original review, Ebert called it "one of the best films I've ever seen" and said that "films like Fargo are why I love the movies".[24]

The film was ranked number 84 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Movies" list in 1998 (although it was removed from the 2007 version) and number 93 on "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" list. The character Marge Gunderson was ranked number 33 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains. In 2006, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Film festivals

Fargo was screened at many film festivals. It was in the main competition at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director prize). Other festival screenings included the Pusan International Film Festival, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Naples Film Festival. On March 1, 2006, for the film's tenth anniversary, the first annual Fargo Film Festival screened Fargo by projecting the film onto the side of the Radisson Hotel (the city's tallest building) in downtown Fargo. The city repeated the event on September 29, 2011.

Awards and honors



Other honors

American Film Institute


Fargo/Barton Fink: Music by Carter Burwell
File:Fargo soundtrack album.jpg
Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell
Released May 28, 1996
Genre Film score
Length 43:15
Label TVT
Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology
The Hudsucker Proxy
(1994)The Hudsucker Proxy1994
The Big Lebowski
(1998)The Big Lebowski1998

As with all the Coen Brothers' films, except O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the score to Fargo is by Carter Burwell.[30]

The main musical motif is based on a Norwegian folk song[31] called "The Lost Sheep", or natively "Den bortkomne sauen".

Other songs featured in the film include: "Big City" by Merle Haggard, heard in the King of Clubs while Jerry meets with Carl and Gaear, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Boy George plays in the garage as Shep works, and "Let's Find Each Other Tonight" a live nightclub performance by José Feliciano that is viewed by Carl and a female escort. In the diner, when Jerry is urging Wade not to get police involved in his wife's kidnapping, Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" can be heard faintly in the background. The restaurant scene with Mike Yanagita is accompanied by a piano arrangement of "Sometimes in Winter" by Blood, Sweat & Tears. All the songs heard in the film are featured only as background music, usually on a radio, and do not appear on the soundtrack album.

The soundtrack was released in 1996 on TVT Records, combined with selections from the score to Barton Fink.[30]

Track listing

  1. "Fargo, North Dakota" – 2:47
  2. "Moose Lake" – 0:41
  3. "A Lot of Woe" – 0:49
  4. "Forced Entry" – 1:23
  5. "The Ozone" – 0:57
  6. "The Trooper's End" – 1:06
  7. "Chewing on it" – 0:51
  8. "Rubbernecking" – 2:04
  9. "Dance of the Sierra" – 1:23
  10. "The Mallard" – 0:58
  11. "Delivery" – 4:46
  12. "Bismarck, North Dakota" – 1:02
  13. "Paul Bunyan" – 0:35
  14. "The Eager Beaver" – 3:10
  15. "Brainerd Minnesota" – 2:40
  16. "Safe Keeping" – 1:41

Home video releases

  • Fargo has been released in several formats: VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes download.[32] The first home video release of the film was on November 19, 1996 on a pan and scan cassette. A collector's edition widescreen VHS was also released and included a snow globe that depicted the woodchipper scene which, when shaken, stirred up both snow and "blood".[33]
  • MGM Home Entertainment released Fargo on DVD on July 8, 1997 in a bare-bones edition.[34] A "Special Edition" DVD was released on September 30, 2003. The released featured minor changes to the film, particularly with its subtitles. The opening titles stating "This is a True Story" have been changed in this edition from the actual titles on the film print to digitally inserted titles. Also, the subtitle preceding Jerry Lundegaard's arrest "Outside of Bismarck, North Dakota" has been inserted digitally and moved from the bottom of the screen to the top.[34] The special edition of Fargo was repackaged in several Coen brothers box sets and also as a double feature DVD with other MGM releases.
  • A Blu-ray version was released on May 12, 2009 and later in a DVD combo pack in 2010.[35] On April 1, 2014, in commemoration for the 90th anniversary of MGM, the film was remastered in 4K and reissued again on Blu-ray.[35]

Television spin-offs

In 1997, a pilot was filmed for a television series based on the film. Set in Brainerd shortly after the events of the film, it starred Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson and Bruce Bohne reprising his role as Officer Lou. It was directed by Kathy Bates and featured no involvement from the Coen brothers. The episode finally aired in 2003 during Trio's Brilliant But Cancelled series of failed TV shows.[36]

A TV series inspired by the film, with the Coens as executive producers,[37] debuted on FX in April 2014.[38] The series stars Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman and its first season received high acclaim from critics and audiences.[38][39][40] Existing in the same fictional universe as the film, the series is set mainly in Bemidji, Minnesota, nineteen years after the film's events, and has a different cast of characters. The episode "Eating the Blame" reintroduces the buried ransom money for a minor three-episode subplot.[41][42]

See also


  1. "Fargo". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved August 2, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Fargo (1995)". British Film Institute. Retrieved August 5, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Fargo (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 2, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Festival de Cannes: Fargo". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-09-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "'Fargo,' 'Blazing Saddles' Added to National Film Registry". ABC News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Goldberg, Lesley (January 14, 2014). "FX's 'Fargo' Cast, EPs on Film Comparisons, Anthology Format, Courting Billy Bob Thornton". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 23, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Ebert, Roger. "Fargo". rogerebert.com. rogerebert.com. Retrieved December 5, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Fargo from the Urban Legends Reference Pages
  9. Heitmueller, Karl (2005-04-12). "Rewind: What Part Of 'Based On' Don't You Understand?". MTV.com. Retrieved 2012-09-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. O'Rourke, Mike (1997-02-11). "Reaction to 'Fargo' nomination". Brainerd Dispatch. Archived from the original on Dec 31, 2002.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Smetanka, Mary Jane (2008-08-08). "We're ready for our close-up, Mr. Coen(s)". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved 2008-09-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Roberts, Sam (2015-09-05). "T. Eugene Thompson Dies at 88; Crime Stunned St. Paul". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Gado, Mark (1986-11-18). "All about the Woodchipper Murder Case". Crimelibrary.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 IMDB Fargo (1996) – Filming locations.
  15. "(stock photo with location)". Cgstock.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "At last, a real home". Ccht.org. Retrieved 2010-02-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. J. Pinkley (April 28, 2003). "Kitchen of Kemp, Melroe home". startribune.com. Archived from the original on 2007-10-22. Retrieved 2011-02-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. McMacken, Robin (May 9, 2004). "North Dakota: Where the accent is on friendship". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2008-02-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Laura Randall (March 26, 2004). "She Accentuates Film Performances". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-02-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Chris Hewitt (October 19, 2005). "Forget `Fargo' – actors put accent on Minnesota realism". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved 2008-02-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Fargo at Rotten Tomatoes
  22. Fargo at Metacritic
  23. "Memo to the Academy". Siskel & Ebert. Aired on January 18, 1997.
  24. Ebert, Roger (March 8, 1996). "Fargo". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved March 31, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
  26. AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
  27. AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
  28. AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
  29. AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  30. 30.0 30.1 "Soundtrack Details: Fargo". SoundtrackCollector.com. Retrieved 2007-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Braxton, Jonathan. "Fargo/Barton Fink". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. https://itunes.apple.com/au/movie/fargo-1996/id341289724
  33. Ty burr (May 2, 1999). "SUMMER FILMS: SYNERGY; A Few Words in Defense of Swag". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. 34.0 34.1 IMDB Fargo DVD Information
  35. 35.0 35.1 http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Fargo-Blu-ray/4352/
  36. "Television: Reruns; Edie Falco in 'Fargo,' and Other Gems You Never Saw". The New York Times. 31 August 2003. Retrieved 5 December 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Andreeva, Nellie (2012-09-21). "FX Teams With Joel & Ethan Coen And Noah Hawley For Series Adaptation Of 'Fargo'". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2012-09-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. 38.0 38.1 "FX Sets Premiere Date For 'Fargo,'" from Variety, 1/14/2014
  39. "Billy Bob Thornton to star in "Fargo" TV series". CBS News. August 2, 2013. Retrieved August 3, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "Metacritic: Fargo Season 1". Metacritic. July 14, 2013. Retrieved July 14, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Ray, Amber (May 7, 2014). "'Fargo' episode 4: The Easter egg that connects the series to the film". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Nguyen, Hanh (May 6, 2014). "Fargo Boss Breaks Down That (Very Familiar) Money Shot". TV Guide. Retrieved June 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links