Straight and narrow roads coated with snow, the scenes depicted by Joel Coen in Fargo present an opportunity to admire the white coat of icy grimness, and the buried deceit hiding underneath. No person is sacred. They each battle their demons either privately and conspicuously or with public bravado and an uncaring glance at those around them. A tangled web presents itself almost immediately, as a collection of characters find themselves in over their heads in a series of events that destroy any sense or semblance of clarity. Fargo adapts this well, this collation of horrible moments and slimy characters comes to life, a spark is thrown into the torrential horrors of ignitable crimes and condescending, self-interested demons.
Overly chirpy and haggard, the contrasts shown in the fractured state of Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is the fascinating explosion of brilliance the film needs. Macy and his quick succession of marvellous appearances throughout the late 1990s hit their peak here. His shtick as a down-on-his-luck car salesman reverberates through the villains and heroes he deals with from the confines of his office and his happy family. His gluttony and jealousy have gripped him with a fear like no other, and finding himself with nowhere else to go and nobody else to turn to, he dives deep into a plan doomed to fail. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare share a good, initial scene with Macy, and soon find themselves contained in an unhappy marriage of two hugely different characters.
These three give superb performances, but it is hard to deny the perfection presented by Frances McDormand here. An integral part of the narrative flow, friendly investigation from a pregnant police officer weeds out some of the larger, more horrifying details. Exceptionally competent detective work, McDormand is a powerful force to be reckoned with, her role as Marge Gunderson a marvellous treat that combines the setbacks of late-stage pregnancy with the sharpest mind on the squad. Filtering through the thick reams of avoidance Jerry and company deliver, it is great to see a performance and director working hand in hand so well. Coen’s work relies on these sleepy city moments, and the rupture of tranquillity is not so much felt, but observed with slight excitement from all those involved.
Filled with red herrings and MacGuffin devices, Fargo gets a kick or two out of rich and enthralling characters who are in pursuit of immoral actions, and the audience don’t know what for. Jerry is loaded with debt, to who or for what reason is completely unknowable. Does it matter? Not particularly. Coen crafts an enthralling narrative, one that taps into the neurosis of his characters. Fargo is a film built on anxiety about events we simply cannot fathom the details of, but knowing the general scope and fallout of such details, audiences understand it is serious, and it will bring characters to justice or demise. A fantastic thriller in every right, and sprinkling in the odd bit of lighter brevity or slight supporting threads of narrative is an exceptional way to keep the fascinating breakdown of mental wellbeing for this ensemble contained in its own, snow-glazed world.