• U.S.

CINEMA: SWEDE ‘N’ SOUR

2 minute read
Richard Corliss

A FEW YEARS BACK, HOWARD MOHR of A Prairie Home Companion wrote a book called How to Talk Minnesotan. Was it funny? Hey, you betcha. So are the twistings of that frosty, flabbergastingly flat accent as heard on the Minnesota-based Mystery Science Theater 3000. Two other gifted natives, the filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, have apparently never got over the giggle value of their regional dialect. Fargo, their derisive new true-crime comedy, could be subtitled How to Laugh at People Who Talk Minnesotan.

The film–which has not much at all to do with Fargo, North Dakota–is about the difficulty real folks have pulling off crimes that always go smoothly in fiction. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) needs a lot of cash, so he hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife for the ransom money. But these guys aren’t smooth criminals; they go nuts trying to put on a galosh or scrape the ice off their windshield. Two incompetent murders later, police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) commences her investigation. And the bad guys get the frozen sweats.

Macy is an ace at doing hysteria in a narrow range, and Buscemi scores as a sick goofus whom one witness IDs as “funny-lookin’–more than most people even.” There’s enough gore to make this a Mystery Violence Theater. After some superb mannerist films, the Coens are back in the deadpan realist territory of Blood Simple, but without the cinematic elan. Fargo is all attitude and low aptitude. Its function is to italicize the Coens’ giddy contempt toward people who talk and think Minnesotan. Which is, y’know, kind of a bad deal.

–By Richard Corliss

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