The only thing missing was a cameo by Garrison Keillor. For the Coen brothers' first "based on a true story" film, Fargo returns combines elements of both Blood Simple and Raising Arizona with a scathing lampoon of the Coens' native Minnesota. As in the Coen's first film, we have a husband conspiring against his wife, but where the deceptions and schemes in Blood Simple were byzantine and cthonic, the villains in Fargo are much more farcical and incompetent, remniscent of Raising Arizona.
W.H. Macy plays Jerry Lundegaard, the perennial loser who runs his father-in-law's Buick dealership. Jerry needs some extra cash for a real estate deal, and when he fears that his tyrannical father-in-law Bob Gustafson (the living avatar of Paul Bunyan, the film's ubiquitous icon, played by Harve Presnell) won't give him the money, he hires two dolts from Fargo, North Dakota to kidnap his wife, intending to split the ransom money with them. The kidnappers are played by Coen regular Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare and are alternately so stupid and so vicious that they cannot even get to Minneapolis to kidnap Lundegaard's wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud) without committing a few murders along the way in Brainerd, Minnesota ("Home of Paul Bunyan!"). The chief of police in Brainerd is the very pregnant Marge Gunderson (married to Arne "Son of a" Gunderson, of course), played by Frances McDormand (who is actually married to one of the Coen brothers, I forget which). Marge is a pillar of Minnesotan good sense and understatement, and even though her colleagues and neighbors aren't the swiftest folk you'll ever meet, she knows that they're Good People and that still counts for something in Brainerd, doncha know.
That Fargo is based on the actual events in Brainerd and Minneapolis in 1987 helps give the plot gravity which it might otherwise not have had. Fictional black comedy, definitely within the Coens' bailiwick, usually requires a surreal element (also a Coen specialty) to alleviate morbidity. Fair-weather populists might protest the Coens' depiction of Minnesotans as cartoonish, but the Coens have more than earned the right to parody their own home state. Speaking for myself, I have quite a few Scandinavian relatives, some not so long removed from Minnesota, and the characters that populate Fargo are, if anything, restrained in their portrayal of Scandinavian/Midwestern foibles.
Copyright © 1996 by Eric Scharf.  All rights reserved.