“I’m not gonna debate you, Jerry…”
The Coen Brothers are responsible for some of the most beloved films of the last twenty years. For some however, they will always be defined by the cult classic The Big Lebowski. Two years before the dude went bowling, the Coen Brothers brought us Fargo. There is a strong argument to be made that Fargo is actually the more accomplished of the two.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a desperate man driven to do terrible things by a crippling debt. His first of many mistakes is to hire Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare’s bungling henchmen to kidnap his wife in order to extort his father in law. Talented, small town cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) stumbles, wide eyed, into the middle of the whole mess.
The great thing about the Coen’s is that you get two talents for the price of one. Their unique and peerless direction is matched only by their razor sharp script writing. The fast paced back and forth inherent in The Big Lebowski led to many comments on how the script felt improvised. That realistic approach to dialogue cut its teeth with Fargo however. Both Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy have confirmed that every stutter, vocal tick or interruption was already written into the script.
Another great strength that the Coen Brothers possess is the ability to assemble incredibly talented, ensemble casts, therefore never having to rely on one star performer. Fargo is perhaps the best example of this with Macy, Buscemi, and an Oscar winning Frances McDormand all at the very peak of their powers. Aside from the stellar acting, Fargo just looks great. Not a single shot is wasted, the beautiful but desolate landscapes working as a fitting backdrop to Lundegaard’s emptiness and despair.
The recent Fargo TV series has done a great job in capturing the essence of what made the source material so magical but it has never yet surpassed it. The Coen Brothers 1996 classic is quite simply one of the finest films ever made.