Fargo (Joel Coen)

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

I wanted to love Fargo. I went back and saw it again today, in the hope that a second viewing might result in a re-appraisal, but I'm sorry to report that, while I again found many things to admire about the film, it remains a minor disappointment from two of my favorite filmmakers. For the first time, Joel and Ethan Coen have based a script upon actual events -- a botched kidnapping in Minnesota in 1987 -- and this, I believe, was their undoing. The Coens are well known for their intricate, labyrinthine narratives, but Fargo's plot is largely irrelevant; events never really build, and frequently seem arbitrary, just as they do in real life. Unfortunately, Fargo isn't a naturalistic drama; it's largely comic in tone, and the Coens seem less concerned with the story than they do with the unique Scandinavian behavior and speech patterns of native Minnesotans. William H. Macy and Frances McDormand give broad, hilarious performances, replete with "yah"s and "real good then"s, but it's impossible to sustain a feature-length film with this sort of caricaturization, and Fargo has little else to offer. (And some of what it does have to offer is strangely irrelevant. There's a bizarre digression involving a former schoolmate of McDormand's which has nothing to do with anything; presumably it really happened, but its function in this movie is difficult to comprehend.) Furthermore, the film features a fair amount of gruesome, not remotely cartoonish violence; these scenes are painful to watch, and seem to take place in a different universe than the other scenes. It almost seems as if Joel and Ethan are trying to pull off a Raimi-inspired blend of comedy and horror, but the Coens are not Sam Raimi, no matter how friendly the three may be. The two tones don't mesh at all, and it often seems as if two completely different films have been inexplicably edited together. I loved one of the films, but I hated the other one, and the result is so schizophrenic that I found myself becoming more and more distanced. I've seen several reviews in which critics have noted that Fargo is the first Coen brothers film that they've truly enjoyed; it's the first one that I haven't.