Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rewatch: Fargo

1996, d.Joel and Ethan Coen - Netflix

The biggest shock about rewatching Fargo (or attempting to rewatch Fargo) was that I did not own a copy of Fargo.  How could this be.  I went though a phase 5 or 6 years ago where I had the urge, nay, the need to acquire every Coen brothers film.  I knew I didn't make it: Blood Simple, the Man Who Wasn't There, Raising Arizona, and The Hudsucker Proxy all eluded me (at the sub-10 dollar price range at least).  But I guess I was quite certain I alreday had Fargo, and never bothered to check.

Netflix Canada has never been that great at giving me what I want to watch at any given moment.  It usually gives me countless options of what I could watch, but rarely a film that I heard discussed on a podcast or a recent release cited on a best of list, but it came through for me this time.  Having just watched the surprisingly amazing Fargo TV series, I wanted to watch the source film, for comparison purposes, as well as it just being a film that deserves to be watched again and again.

The biggest surprise in actually rewatching the film is how tight it is.  It clocks in at under 100 minutes, it felt like it was over shortly after it began.  It's not a breakneck paced movie, mind you, as there's a beautiful and unique rhythm to the mid-American border states (at least the Coen's unique vision of it) that is very relaxed and easy going on the surface, but finds an undercurrent of anxiety and facetiousness.  But the Coen's script is so character and moment dense that the film just glides along effortlessly. 

What every writer and director could learn from studying the Coens is that there are no wasted characters on the screen.  No character exists solely to serve the plot, the all seem to actually exist in that world, and they contribute to the story.  It's not always about progression, but sometimes just about defining that world more clearly.  Mike Yanagita (played brillantly by Steve Park) doesn't serve the story of Marge's investigation in any way, but it's a character that intrudes into Marge's world (inconsequentially mind you) and becomes one of it's most memorable scenes, right next to the wood chipper.

When I was watching the TV series I was comparing it to my recollection of the movie, which was faded and distant.  There are tonal strikes that obviously match up, and synchronous beats in the overall progression, but I was actually surprised (again, a lot of surprises) by how little it actually borrowed from the movie.  Martin Freeman early in the show adopts William H Macy's Jerry Lundegaard accent and facets of his nervous mannerisms, but the rewatch showed that Jerry was exceptionally twitchy and nervous, while Freeman's Lester Nygaard was just feeling perpetually emasculated and ineffectual.  And there's very little to compare Alison Tollman's Molly Solverson to Francis McDormand's Marge Gunderson, beyond the fact that both are absolutely amazing in each, being utterly kick-ass female heroes who won't get enough credit for being such.  Marge shoud be just as iconic as Alien's Riply or Princess Leia.

Watching Fargo the TV show made me want to watch Fargo the movie, which in turn has made me want to watch the TV show again, and I'm certain the cycle would continue.  The Coen brothers built a great playground (as they so often do) and it's great to see it played with so joyously and respectfully as to live up (and almost equal) to the original.  It's a rare thing.