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Jerry Lundegaard, a car salesman in Minneapolis, is so desperate for money that he hires two thugs to kidnap his own wife. Jerry will collect the ransom from her wealthy father, paying half to the thugs and keeping the rest to satisfy his debts. The scheme collapses when the thugs shoot a state trooper and two innocent bystanders in rural Minnesota, drawing local Police Chief Marge Gunderson into a homicide investigation.
For more about Fargo and the Fargo Blu-ray release, see Fargo Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on May 13, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, John Carroll Lynch, Harve Presnell
» See full cast & crew
Fargo Blu-ray Review
From the snow and ice of America's northland to the warm pixels of your HT screen, one of the classics of modern cinema is reborn in 1080p.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, May 13, 2009
A film about greed and violence that is sometimes classified as a comedy proved to be Joel and Ethan Coen's first major breakthrough to mainstream audiences. Earning seven Academy Award nominations and winning two--Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress--Fargo shows the darkest and brightest sides of humanity against a backdrop of barren fields of snow. But it is nothing as lofty as the Coen brothers' exploration of good, evil and individuality that made Fargo a blockbuster success. The immense draw of the film is attributable to brilliant writing and a quirky cast. The Coens' odd portrait of Americana is delivered in seductively quotable lines about someone "goin' crazy out there at the lake" and "a no rough-stuff type deal" and the ultimate deadpan line about an "accomplice in the wood chipper." With its unique characters and infectious "you betcha" dialog among Nordic descendants, Fargo smacked a home run with audiences around the world. Now MGM has issued the dark comedy in high definition, with excellent picture and sound. It's the third Coen brothers' movie to be released on Blu-ray, following No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading.
The story of Fargo is by now well known, and has been thoroughly studied and analyzed since the film's release in 1996. The narrative has all the more gravity after the words appearing at the beginning of the film: "This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred." Turns out, that is not true. The crimes are loosely based on separate incidents that occurred elsewhere in the country, but as for the characters, setting and narrative, they are purely the invention of the Coen brothers who grew up in a suburb of Minnesota. Why did they lead off by promoting Fargo as a true story? The answer lies in some of the bonus content, in which the brothers theorize audiences would care more about real characters than about fictional ones. But with the brilliant acting and eclectic assortment of colorful personalities featuring Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) and Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi), it's debatable whether there is any advantage in billing the action as a true story. Contrary to the Coens' own theory, their fictional characters command attention and in this case, fiction may be stranger than fact. The script is that masterful.
It centers around a staged kidnapping plot gone horribly awry, and the seven-months-pregnant police chief who tries to make sense of a string of murders and end the crime spree. The film shows the desperation and greed of the men on the wrong side of the law in contrast to the good-natured, tenacious Marge. From the premise to the closing moments, the motives, language and landscapes are so alien to the average viewer that the overall effect of watching it is almost like going on a vacation. Fargo is a trip. Even forgetting about the plot and taking the scenes one by one, they are shocking in their conception, offbeat humor and deceptively simple design. Right about the time you see bug-eyed Showalter tell the gargantuan Shep Proudfoot (Steven Reevis) to "smoke a f--kin' peace pipe" you realize that the action and delivery might just be most brilliantly unconventional of any film. When Marge interviews the prostitute who slept with Showalter, the dialog is pure Coen magic that starts out quirky and becomes borderline outrageous. But almost every scene has such moments.
The way violence unfolds is also executed with a raw vision that is trademark Coen brothers. For example, the highway multiple homocide at night starts out conventionally, but the camera unrelentingly shows every detail as the scene builds in intensity, culminating in the brutal murders. Cinematographer Roger Deakins serves up the characters and long snowy plains of Minnesota and North Dakota in simple strokes of artistic grandeur. The Coen brothers show only what they need you to see. And Deakins ensures that the photography and composition are technically impeccable, as he did when collaborating with the Coens in No Country for Old Men or as a consultant for Pixar in Wall-E. The extraordinary imagery, plot, script and acting all boil down to Marge's actions and observations prior to the closing moments when she calmly renders her judgment on the violence that tore apart her precinct. "For what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don't you know that? And here y'are. And it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it." Movies just can't get more poignant than that.
Fargo Blu-ray, Video Quality
After about 10 years of repeated DVD viewings, watching the MPEG-4 encode of Fargo on Blu-ray is like seeing it for the first time. It's a fantastic transfer! With film-like qualities, the picture is defined, colors are vibrant and black level is deep, all contributing to the appearance of landscapes, sets and actors with lifelike detail. The video is not without problems, which are especially visible at the beginning, as Jerry Lundegaard hauls the "brand new burnt umber Ciera" to Fargo for the initial meeting with Showalter. During the daylight part of the ride, in heavy snow that casts a monotone haze across the screen, the film actually appears damaged, with signs of banding, flickering, strobing and a digital sheen to the film grain, suggesting MGM tried to clean it up. These problems concerned me and I recalibrated my expectations lower to avoid disappointment throughout the film.
But by the time the more heterogeneous imagery of the night scene played across my kuro screen and the credits had finished rolling, these problems had largely and mysteriously vanished, to my delight. Even later scenes featuring homogeneous snow weren't as bad as the opening sequence. When Marge inspects the snowy crime scene, there are few signs of damage compared to the initial problems during the opening. The sets and landscapes offering more variety in texture and color better showcase the brilliance of cinematographer Roger Deakins. The definition almost achieves reference level in some scenes, for example when the kidnappers reach their hideout by the lake. Note the delicate branches in the frost-crusted trees behind the men as they stand watching Mrs. Lundegaard. The 1080p transfer serves as a significant upgrade to heighten the experience of watching Deakins' and the Coens' attention to detail in lighting and camera angles. Once you feast your eyes on the Blu-ray, you will wonder how you ever watched this on DVD.
Fargo Blu-ray, Audio Quality
From the opening sound of the evocative instrumentation by Carter Burwell to the characters' voices to the blast of gunshots and open-throated engines, the DTS-HD MA audio track of Fargo is a pleasure to hear. Like the picture quality, it's a significant upgrade in definition and refinement. The soundstage up front is narrow but deep, and very little use of surrounds is apparent--just a touch of ambience in the music and some of the louder effects like car engines. Treble is a bit bloated here. Watch the scene where the kidnappers break into the Lundegaards' home. The sound of breaking glass has good presence and definition, and the piercing cries of Mrs. Lundegaard are more open, airy and not nearly as thin and digital-infused as the compressed Dolby Digital audio from the DVD version. In fact, voices throughout Fargo on Blu-ray feature better detail and tonality than ever before. When Jerry scrapes the ice off his windshield after the meeting with his father in law, the contributes to the overall impact and isolation of the scene. Another notable sound is the violin in Burwell's compositions that perfectly tie together the film's bleak landscapes, unbelievable plot and quirky characters. But ultimately, every sound in the DTS-HD MA track is a pleasure to hear and the only thing holding it back from the highest rating is a more dynamic surround mix. Frankly, that would not have seemed natural with this film, so the focus on the front three channels is perfectly suitable.
Fargo Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
A straight port from the DVD version, Fargo comes with a bevvy of bonus content, but it's all in NTSC. What is there is very good especially the audio track by cinematographer Roger Deakins; however, there is nothing new except the enabling of BD-Live.
• Audio Commentary with director of photography Roger Deakins
• Minnesota Nice
• Trivia Nice
• Article from American Cinematographer
• Theatrical Trailer, TV Spot and Photo Gallery
• BD-Live enabled
Fargo Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
MGM's Blu-ray release of Fargo is the best available version of the film and, as such, is a must-have. No Blu-ray library should be without it. A new generation of fans quoting the more memorable lines and characters, like "Norm son-of-a-Gunderson" will certainly find themselves enjoying this remarkable movie over and over again in high definition. Whether you enjoy the pinnacle of writing, acting and cinematography or are into Fargo for other reasons, you will be thanking your lucky stars that MGM decided to release this Coen brothers classic on Blu-ray.
Fargo: Other Editions
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Fargo Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Fargo Release Gets Detailed - February 26, 2009
MGM Home Entertainment in conjunction with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Fargo', which is due to hit store shelves on May 12th. Video will be presented in 1.85:1 1080p ...
• MGM Announces May Titles: Fargo, Bond, & The Good, the Bad, and t... - February 26, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, MGM Home Entertainment in conjunction with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment have announced an onslaught of classic catalog titles for release on Blu-ray this May. On May 12th, they will release 'Fargo', 'Force 10 From Navarone', ...
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