Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Fargo (1996)

Sometimes, you dig a hole so deep, your only choice is to keep digging.  Jerry Lundegaard has found himself in just such a hole.  He’s in deep enough that he’s decided to contract Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud to kidnap his wife.  They’re not the brightest, but they know enough to ask why Jerry wants half the ransom money back.  They also want to know why they aren’t getting cash up front.  You see, it’s Jerry’s father-in-law, Wade Gustafson, that has the money.  Jerry can provide the two with a car, as Jerry manages a car lot.  If they want the money, they have to get it from Wade with Jerry acting as the intermediary.

As you might expect, things don’t go according to plan.  Gaear shoots three people while transporting the wife, getting the police involved.  Wade also wants to deliver the money, which would cut Jerry out of his half, not that Carl would mind.  Carl wants to keep the whole thing for himself.  This could complicate things, as Jerry has upped the ransom to a million dollars.  Oh, and the police chief is investigating and she’s very good at her job.  (She has an uncanny ability to piece things together.)

Oh, and if that’s not enough, Jerry has GMAC on his back.  He somehow wrote up $320,000 in loans for cars that don’t exist.  It amazes me that he was even able to get away with this, considering we‘re talking 1987 dollars.  That would be close to $900,000 in modern money.  For that matter, I’m not sure why Jerry had such a lowball ransom amount.  Why not go for a million in the first place?  That would have been more than enough to pay back GMAC, unless the plan was to delay indefinitely or to skip town later.  (GMAC keeps demanding serial numbers, which Jerry is unable to provide.)

It seemed like it was a prefect crime.  All the kidnappers had to do was sit on the wife until the ransom came through.  This is, however, a movie about three screwups.  We don’t even learn why Jerry had to have that kind of money.  I’m assuming that he didn’t take it all at once, but still, where did it all go?  He also had to know someone would eventually ask about it.  You’d think the head salesman at a car dealership would either know better or be able to falsify the paperwork a little better.

As for the kidnappers, they tend to be an odd couple.  One is talkative while the other is quiet.  One tries bribery and quick talking while the other would seem to prefer a scorched-earth approach.  Neither one is that bright about it.  I know that Jerry probably can’t afford much on the $40,000 he’s paying, but you’d think he’d try for a little better.  There’s one scene where Carl is burying something in the snow.  He looks around and realizes that there’s no way to really identify the location later.  This scene for me typifies the movie.  No one really seems to think too far ahead.

I’m not a big fan of downward spirals, mostly because movies that use this theme tend to overdo it.  Here, it’s more subtle.  Jerry does come off as somewhat sympathetic in that any of us could find ourselves in a similar situation.  Maybe not that exact situation, but we can empathize with Jerry’s desperation.  We can see his frustration in thinking that he’s losing control that he never really had.

Some of the things were too subtle even for me.  As I said, I’m not sure what was going on in Jerry’s life that got him to that point.  (I’m sure someone will leave a comment with a good explanation.)  Jerry had proposed a land deal to Wade.  I’m not sure if was a real land deal or a way of getting money from his rich father-in-law.  I’m also not sure how Wade hadn’t found out about the GMAC scam.  You’d think someone would have contacted the owner of the dealership at some point.

It does present itself as a solid story, though.  None of the characters are so over the top that they were distracting or unbelievable.  There is violence, and it‘s not entirely subtle.  (One person was shot in the back at a distance.)  There is sex and nudity, but not a lot.  This isn’t a movie meant for small children.  It’s a dark comedy.  There are also things that I think would be too subtle for children, just as there are things about the movie that would be too much.

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