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MGM Studios DVD presents
Fargo (1996)

"So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little bit of money, y'know. Don't you know that?"
- Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: August 20, 2000

Stars: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy
Other Stars: Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell
Director: Joel Coen

Manufacturer: Sunset Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language and sexuality
Run Time: 01h:38m:00s
Release Date: August 15, 2000
UPC: 027616851543
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Fargo is a 1996 crime comedy/drama by the always interesting Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. The story concerns one Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a Minnesota car salesman so deeply in debt he conspires to have his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) kidnapped in order to collect a ransom from her wealthy father Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell.) He hires two hardened criminals to carry out the kidnapping, the irritable Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and the cold-blooded Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare.) When the thugs kill three people while passing through the small town of Brainerd, Minnesota, an investigation is undertaken by a very pregnant local police chief, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand.)

As with all of the Coen brothers' projects, Fargo is populated with colorful, memorable characters. And like their best efforts, the film has a beginning, a middle, an end, and an honest-to-goodness moral subtext. Fargo is about the mundane nature of evil, the nasty things people do out of desperation, and the nastier things some are willing to do for money. It's the tragedy of Jerry Lundegaard (Macy), whose unspecified but significant debt coupled with his innate cowardice lead him to drastic but inept criminal action. Unable to admit he's in financial trouble, he builds "solutions" that unravel as quickly as he constructs them—he never intends for anyone to get hurt, but his actions ultimately cause the deaths of six people.

Fargo is a beautiful film—its vast white stretches of snow-covered Minnesota land echo the conspirators' coldness and provide a perfect canvas for the Coens' vision. Every shot is well-composed, with some memorable visuals—a wide shot of Showalter and Grimsrud's stolen car nearly lost against an empty horizon, an overhead image of a depressed Lundegaard trudging to his car across a trackless parking lot. It's also a near-perfectly constructed script—there are no holes, no tricks, though there are surprises of many kinds, and the dialogue is hilarious in its understated way.

The film is brought to life by a uniformly excellent cast. William H. Macy gives a daring, naked performance as the nervous, frightened, amoral Lundegaard. Frances McDormand is quietly commanding as her investigation expands, with a sharp head for police work under her "you betcha" Minnesota accent. The role of Carl Showalter is a perfect showcase for Steve Buscemi's brand of cynical shiftlessness, and Harve Presnell is great to watch as the stern, bullheaded Wade Gustafson. All of the performances seem tuned into Planet Coen, and they bring a lot of heart, humor and relevance to the film.

Fargo is about greed, stupidity and deception, not redemption, with an unfailing moral compass in the character of Marge Gunderson. Full of visual poetry and dark comedy, it's equal parts Garrison Keillor and William Shakespeare—a cautionary tale in the Minnesota vernacular, exceedingly well told.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: MGM has remastered Fargo for this release, replacing the older Polygram transfer with a fine anamorphic 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio image. There are a few moire patterns here and there and significant source print dirt at the very beginning, but the image is generally clean and film-like, handling a few grainier scenes with no extra digital "noise" evident. Color and black-level are solid, and the rich textures of the film's many snow-covered scenes are well-presented—until I saw this DVD, I'd forgotten what the film actually looked like. I fear the image quality came at the expense of supplements on this double-sided, single-layer DVD, but the film looks great. (The disc's flipside contains a full-frame pan-and-scan version—more than other TV "conversions" I've seen, it does irreparable damage to the Coens' striking compositions and should be avoided at all costs.)

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Fargo features a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, remixed from the theatrical Dolby Stereo Surround track. Dialogue is clear, generally centered, with Carter Burwell's fine score supported by LFE-level bass and surround usage. My only complaint is that many of the directional effects seem a little too "wide"—it's distracting when an on-screen footfall produces a Foley effect at the extreme right or left of the soundstage, and sound effect and dialogue placement are occasionally mismatched. The soundtrack is otherwise well-designed—it certainly enhances the film, and the digital master is crisp and clear. But the "virtual width" of the soundstage seems off-kilter, as though not properly adjusted for home theatres.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: MGM provides Fargo with appropriate, well-designed full-motion menus, French and Spanish subtitles, and picture menus for 24 chapter stops. But the only on-disc "extra" is the film's R-rated "red band" theatrical trailer, in a 1.33:1 full-frame, non-anamorphic, middling-quality transfer. This film deserves Collector's Edition treatment, and the "Collectible Booklet" insert, while informative, doesn't do Fargo justice.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Fargo is the perfect Coen Brothers film—quirky, dark, emotionally substantial and visually inventive. MGM's feature-free DVD still presents the film in style, with an excellent, remastered transfer. If you've never seen the film, it's a must-rent, and its low suggested retail price makes it a must-buy for any Coen Brothers fan.


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