Directed by Joel Coen
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 98 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 3.0 English, 5.1 Portuguese, others
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: May 12, 2009
Review Date: May 20, 2009
When one enters a Joel and Ethan Coen movie, he knows he’s entering “alien territory.” Whether it’s the other-worldliness of the child stealing robbers of Raising Arizona, the mob warfare of Miller’s Crossing, or the fringe Hollywood of Barton Fink, the Coens don’t seem to care anything about the world of the average person. Theirs is a world of eccentricity, and one is usually assured of a good time if he’s willing to take the ride along with them. Fargo is eccentric in the very best way. It’s a murder-comedy with the stamp of the clever Coens on each and every frame.
The foundation of Ethan and Joel’s story is rock-solid: a faux-true 1987 incident involving a salesman (William H. Macy) in dire need of money who arranges for his wife (Kristen Rudrud) to be kidnapped so he can bleed her wealthy father (Harve Presnell) for some much needed funds. The kidnapping takes some wrong turns as people start getting killed, the husband gets greedy, and the criminals (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) spin wildly and dangerously out of control. Dogging the trail of these crooks is pregnant police detective Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). What she lacks in quick wit, she more than makes up for in dogged determination and high spirits. The combination of these disparate elements - the bio, the blood, and the bluster - keeps the picture from sinking into an abyss of commonplace predictability.
The Coens always cast their movies interestingly. Frances McDormand, who was in their outstanding debut film Blood Simple, plays Marge. She’s a wonderful actress who can effortlessly play comedy or drama, and here she must do both with a decided lean toward comedy nailing the provincial accent and chipper outlook on life with a portrayal that netted her an Oscar. Steve Buscemi, who has made a career of playing queer ducks, gets the more serious-minded of the major characters, the head of the kidnapping duo with a hair-trigger temper. His mute partner, the stolid but lethal Gaear (even the names here are oddball), is played by Peter Stormare with superb body language and just the right twitch of facial expression to register his disdain or disinterest. The shifty husband, who bargains with the kidnappers to take $80,000 when he asks for a million from his father-in-law, is played by William H. Macy in a performance that’s actually the film’s main role (though he netted an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor). Harve Presnell is the grizzled, feisty father of the kidnapped woman whose stubbornness plays a part in the kidnapping plan breaking down.
The comedy strings of Fargo are manipulated by this constant contrast of life as we know it and life as we see it depicted in this movie. The Oscar-winning script by the Coen brothers captures the small town mindset and sunny dispositions of the region in such a masterful way that just spending time here feels good, despite a recurring jolts of violence that dot the movie. The Coens’ movies have always distinguished themselves with their innovative camera work. Many people felt the brothers went too far with the camera tricks in Blood Simple (I didn’t), and some of the later pictures have featured less audacious cinematography. Fargo has probably the least awe-inspiring photography, and yet the images still haunt. One in particular is an overhead shot as one of the characters makes his way to his car in a parking lot, a simply breathtaking moment that captures the beauty and isolation of the area and of the man who‘s finding his master plan slowly crumbling around him.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. This is unquestionably the best this film has ever looked on home video with excellent contrast and a sharp image bringing out lots of details in ordinary objects like the grain in a leather coat or the individual strands of hair in various characters. Flesh tones are superb, and black levels register with an inky sheen. As snow blankets much of the countryside, it’s important that the whites don’t bloom, and in this transfer, they don’t. There is just the tiniest bit of pixilation in some fencing, but otherwise, the image is faultless. The film has been divided into 36 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack spreads the music across the soundstage in masterful fashion but otherwise, the surrounds don’t get a great deal of work for a film that’s heavy on talk and contains only an occasional ambient effect. Dialog is very natural sounding and is well recorded landing properly in the center channel.
The audio commentary by cinematographer Roger Deakins is a stop and start affair. Having worked with the Coens on other projects, he has some stories to tell about their working methods and about the film in particular, but this is a very reserved audio commentary.
The viewer can turn on pop-up facts from the special features menu allowing a generous selection of film-based and fact-based information to be imparted.
“Minnesota Nice” is the making of documentary, 27 ¾ minutes featuring members of the cast and the Coen brothers discussing the film and their roles in it. It’s in 480p.
A photo gallery allows step-through color and black and white stills shot during production to be viewed by the user.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 minutes and is in 1080p.
A TV spot running ½-minute is in 480p.
An article published in American Cinematographer about the making of the movie is reprinted along with the photographs used to illustrate the article. The viewer can either step through the pages himself or allow the program to advance the pages at regular intervals.
One of the great quirky black comedies, Fargo makes an auspicious debut on Blu-ray with a beautiful looking and sounding transfer along with extras ported over from previous DVD releases. Highly recommended!