Fanfare for the Common Man

This twist on gender roles also serves as an extra kick in the head to film's villain, the ineffectual middle-class white guy that is Jerry Lundegaard. William Macy perfectly embodies the Nordic repression and frozen cheer of Minnesotans at their worst: His ruddy face has all the vapidity of a ventriloquist's dummy; his wide blue eyes are glazed over with the willful innocence of middle America. All he knows is the empty language of the go-getter, a wheeler-dealer who never comes through: "We've got to play ball with these guys," he tells his tearful son about the kidnappers; "We run a tight ship here... We're workin' with ya," he insists to the authorities. Totally without a clue, he's both frightening and pathetic once his psychosis begins to surface.

For all its digs at Minnesotan culture, Fargo has its weirdly poignant side. There's a woman trapped in a crashed car, panting, terrified, staring silently; and an uncomfortably lengthy scene in which Carl goes ape shit over bad TV reception, while the camera homes in on a vacant Gaear and the tied-up, hooded kidnap victim. A great sequence has Margie driving home pensively from Minneapolis, greeting the menu at a Hardee's drive-thru, chewing her burger pensively in the car, then continuing on, lost in thought. These are the more humane takes in a movie that's otherwise enthralled with the grotesqueries of the everyday.

All the amplified and exploited stereotypes serve to tell another of the Coens' idiosyncratic stories, which is more than a mean-spirited parody of their home state. These filmmakers cannot be so easily pegged, and as if to prove it, they've tacked an uncharacteristically sweet ending onto Fargo--another something that, this time around, gets you thinking that maybe they're for real.

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