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Fargo (1996)

Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo abandons the romantic conventions of the crime genre, reducing it's story of kidnap, murder and moral squandering to basic, to-the-point realisms. The criminals are witless, the cops regular folk, and the sex anything but sexy. In this much, the film succeeds. Yet in it's observations of common human behavior, Fargo reveals itself as the product of nasty elitism, the Coen Brother's removed presence creating an air of superiority that mocks the small-town quaintness and quirky local accents at hand more than it does embrace them as the norm. The intended crime involves a car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), who, in a bit of (somewhat unclarified) financial trouble, makes a deal with two thugs to kidnap his wife. Jerry's rich, tyrannical father-in-law will pay the ransom, and he and the kidnappers will split the money. Needless to say, not all goes as planned. Like Reservoir Dogs, the film achieves satire and humor by looking behind the scenes as a crime gone wrong whilst also poking at the standards of its genre, tongue firmly in cheek, but it's class condescension quickly overtakes any of the film's more agreeable nuances. The performances are often very good in the context, but that context is what makes the film itself so off-putting. These aren't real people we're watching, but simplistic caricatures who exist only to be ridiculed, with every overwrought utterance of the regional language trademarks of "ya" and "you betcha" delivered with guileless exaggeration. This callousness renders any less malicious intentions on the filmmaker's parts as little more than accomplices to the nasty mockery of middle American culture at hand (and yes, the Coens grew up in the same region as the film takes place - despite that fact, I'm still not buying the joke). In the end, the film doesn't purport any sense of morality, instead looking for laughs amongst the bloodshed at the expense of any real human feeling. Fargo is little more than technical moviemaking proficiency employed in the name of anti-human snobbery; in other words, it's a high brow Napoleon Dynamite.

You must have really been in a pissy mood when you saw this. The absurdity alone makes it essential Coen Bros.

It is possible (I thought I was in a fine mood...), and I've done 180's before. For that reason alone I plan on watching it again some time in the future, and again if necassary. Three, however, is my limit of times to watch a movie I initially disliked in an effort to try to like it. The Deer Hunter, Paul Haggis' Crash, and Full Metal Jacket have all gotten three sit-downs with me, and I continuously disliked each one. On the other hand, I absolutely hated (loathed?) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas the first time I saw it, but quite liked it the second time around.

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