Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joel Coen|
|Produced by||Ethan Coen|
William H. Macy
|Music by||Carter Burwell|
|Edited by||Roderick Jaynes|
|Distributed by||Gramercy Pictures|
|Box office||$60.6 million|
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. 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. The American Film Institute named it one of the 100 greatest American movies of all time in 1998.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Reception
- 5 Awards and honors
- 6 Soundtrack
- 7 Home video releases
- 8 Television spin-offs
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
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. 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.
- Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson
- William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard
- Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter
- Peter Stormare as Gaear Grimsrud
- Harve Presnell as Wade Gustafson
- Kristin Rudrüd as Jean Lundegaard
- Tony Denman as Scotty Lundegaard
- Gary Houston as Irate Customer
- Sally Wingert as Irate Customer's Wife
- Steve Reevis as Shep Proudfoot
- Warren Keith as Reilly Diefenbach (voice)
- Larry Brandenburg as Stan Grossman
- J. Todd Anderson as Victim in Field (credited as Prince)
- John Carroll Lynch as Norm Gunderson
- Bruce Bohne as Officer Lou
- Melissa Peterman as Hooker #2
- Steve Park as Mike Yanagita
- Cliff Rakerd as Officer Gary Olson
- José Feliciano as Himself
- Bain Boehlke as Mr. Mohra
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.
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.
At first the Coens claimed the actual murders took place, just not in their home state of Minnesota. The Coens were born and raised in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis. 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.
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.
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. 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. It has since been razed and is now Clare Housing for people with HIV.
- The Pillsbury Ave., Minneapolis home of Doug Melroe and Denny Kemp includes the kitchen of the Lundegaards' house.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. According to the film's dialect coach, Liz Himelstein, "the accent was another character." She coached the cast using audio tapes and field trips. 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. 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.
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". The film also holds a score of 85 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 24 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both named Fargo the best film of 1996. It was also Ebert's fourth favorite of the 1990s. 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".
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".
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
- Academy Award for Best Actress – Frances McDormand
- Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay – Joel and Ethan Coen
- BAFTA David Lean Award for Direction – Joel Coen
- Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director – Joel Coen
- New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film
- National Board of Review Award for Best Actress – Frances McDormand
- National Board of Review Award for Best Director – Joel Coen
- Satellite Award for Best Film
- Satellite Award for Best Director – Joel Coen
- Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama – Frances McDormand
- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role – Frances McDormand
- Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – Joel and Ethan Coen
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Film
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Director – Joel Coen
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead – William H. Macy
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead – Frances McDormand
- Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay – Joel and Ethan Coen
- 2006 National Film Registry
- Academy Award for Best Picture – Ethan Coen
- Academy Award for Director – Joel Coen
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – William H. Macy
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins
- Academy Award for Film Editing – Roderick Jaynes
- BAFTA Award for Best Film
- BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay
- BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
- Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics
- Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
- Golden Globe Award for Best Director – Motion Picture – Joel Coen
- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy – Frances McDormand
- Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture – Joel and Ethan Coen
- Satellite Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama – William H. Macy
- Satellite Award for Best Original Screenplay – Joel and Ethan Coen
- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role – William H. Macy
- Palme D'or
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #84
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #93
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Marge Gunderson – #33 Hero
- Carl Showalter & Gaear Grimsrud – Nominated Villains
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "You betcha!" – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
|Fargo/Barton Fink: Music by Carter Burwell|
|File:Fargo soundtrack album.jpg|
|Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell|
|Released||May 28, 1996|
|Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology|
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.
- "Fargo, North Dakota" – 2:47
- "Moose Lake" – 0:41
- "A Lot of Woe" – 0:49
- "Forced Entry" – 1:23
- "The Ozone" – 0:57
- "The Trooper's End" – 1:06
- "Chewing on it" – 0:51
- "Rubbernecking" – 2:04
- "Dance of the Sierra" – 1:23
- "The Mallard" – 0:58
- "Delivery" – 4:46
- "Bismarck, North Dakota" – 1:02
- "Paul Bunyan" – 0:35
- "The Eager Beaver" – 3:10
- "Brainerd Minnesota" – 2:40
- "Safe Keeping" – 1:41
Home video releases
- Fargo has been released in several formats: VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes download. 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".
- MGM Home Entertainment released Fargo on DVD on July 8, 1997 in a bare-bones edition. 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. 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. On April 1, 2014, in commemoration for the 90th anniversary of MGM, the film was remastered in 4K and reissued again on Blu-ray.
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.
A TV series inspired by the film, with the Coens as executive producers, debuted on FX in April 2014. The series stars Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman and its first season received high acclaim from critics and audiences. 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.
- Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter—a film about a young Japanese woman who fixates on Fargo, believing the events it depicts to be real
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- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
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