Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FARGO (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1996, USA) One man’s emasculating spiral into financial oblivion, a man who believes his future is contained in a briefcase full of salvation but whose malignant roots corrupt the soul. The Coen Brother’s dark humor is prevalent from the opening credits as they proclaim this story “based upon true events”: they even proclaim that the details are as faithful as possible in deference to the dead. This plot device actually works quite well to reign in their snarky humor and capitulate to a formal narrative structure, which drives the film through the thick fog of implausibility. The Coen Brothers fall victim to their own burlesque, portraying caricatures instead of people, disguising empathy with a mask of parody. But the fine performance from William H. Macy and Frances McDormand involve the audience in this violent drama and parallels the absurdly inept criminals. The film begins to sink towards slapstick until the first gruesome murder scene that shocks the audience in its casual brutality: we suddenly realize that the stakes have been raised and the narrative destination is unknown. When two innocent teenagers stumble upon the crime scene, we feel the adrenaline rush of panic and hope for their escape…and the callowness of their breathless murders resonate in our hearts. For once, the Coen’s have captured true drama that echoes nihilism, the whisper of the void, and there’s nothing funny about it. The police procedural is surprisingly realistic which elevates the fiction’s credibility, and the wood chipper ending is both funny and grotesque: which best describes the Coen brother’s cinematic form. McDormand as the pregnant Brainerd Police Chief is believable, contrasting her personal life with her professional worldview, and she asks the existential question that plagues many victims and law enforcement professionals: Why? As in all great stories…there is no convincing answer. (A)

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